All rivers in England have failed to meet quality tests for pollution amid concerns over the scale of sewage discharge and agricultural chemicals entering the water system.
Data published on Thursday reveals just 14% of English rivers are of “good” ecological standard. There have been no improvements in river quality since 2016 when the last data was published, despite government promises that by 2027, 75% of English rivers would be rated good.
The figures, from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as part of the EU water framework directive, show for the first time that no river has achieved good chemical status, compared with 97% judged good in 2016, suggesting pollution from sewage discharge, chemicals and agriculture are having a huge impact on river quality.
Despite the government’s legally binding target, the new data suggest rivers are in as poor a state as six years ago.
Howard Boyd said: “Today just 14% of our rivers are [rated good]. To get where we want to be everyone needs to improve how they use water now and that means water companies, farmers, and the public.”
Guardian data revealed that raw sewage was discharged from storm overflows into English rivers for more than 1.5m hours by water companies in 2019. And the government and the EA has set up a storm overflow task force to try to tackle the growing problem of sewage pollution.
The environment minister Rebecca Pow said the water quality data published on Thursday showed urgent action was needed to reduce sewage discharge and address pollution from agriculture and chemicals. She said the data was “not comfortable reading”.
“We need to go further and faster on reducing the environmental impact from storm overflows and other sources of pollution including chemicals and agriculture,” said Pow. “More needs to be done urgently, and I met with water companies earlier this month to set out the high expectations this government has for our water environment, including in particular chalk streams.
“These results show we have a long way to go, with a new way of testing for chemicals more accurately reflecting what is in our water environment. While it’s not comfortable reading, this will allow us to plan more effectively to tackle the scourge of pollution.
“We are absolutely committed to achieving the water quality ambitions in our 25-year environment plan to improve at least three-quarters of our waters to be as close to their natural state as soon as possible.”
Dr. Janina Gray, the head of science and policy at Salmon and Trout Conservation, said English river quality was the worst in Europe. She blamed a lack of political will, lack of investment, and dramatic cuts to Environment Agency monitoring for the “depressing” picture.
“There has been absolutely no progress. Every single water body monitored by the EA in England has failed stricter new chemical standards. This means no water bodies are in overall good health.”