River pollution

Press release 7/10/20: All rivers in Uttlesford have “failed” a test for chemical pollution according to results published last month by the Environment Agency (EA).

A nationwide survey of 4,600 rivers, lakes and waterways in England produced shocking results. Not one met the standard for priority hazardous substances such as solvents, flame retardents, phosphates and insecticides.

This comes amid growing concern for the future of England’s Chalk streams, a globally rare aquatic environment. Of the world’s 200 or so Chalk streams 80 percent are in the south and east of England and include two of the district’s principle rivers, the Cam and the Stort. Ecologically, Chalk streams have been described as England’s rain forests.

The river Cam has its historic source from Chalk springs near Debden and has faired particularly badly in the EA report. The Chalk aquifer (the underground store of water feeding the springs) is being over-exploited to meet increasing demand from housing developments. This is depriving the river of its natural flow. Last year the Cam was at its lowest level since records began 70 years ago.

A low volume of water means pollutants are not dispersed sufficiently quickly. Also, in the summer, what little water is in the Cam often comprises almost entirely of outflow from sewage treatment works. This puts phosphates in the river which combined with fertilizer run-off from fields robs the water of oxygen, killing aquatic life. Outdated sewage works are prone to overflow putting raw untreated sewage into the river.

Uttlesford district councillor Richard Pavitt, who earlier this year successfully presented a cross party motion to protect and improve the district’s rivers, says: “Years of neglect, cost cutting and political expedience have trashed the nation’s environmental safeguards.

“We are paying a high price. Rivers and lakes are engines of biodiversity and their neglect is symptomatic of the low regard for our natural environment. It may be a statement of the obvious but no species including ourselves can survive without clean water.”

Cllr Pavitt is encouraging communities to get involved in monitoring and caring for their local rivers. In his own ward he has helped to set up an action group for the Cam, Curat.org.uk.

Photo: the Cam at the outflow of Great Chesterford sewage works. Unwanted nutrients and poor flow cause excessive plant growth and silted river bed.

4 comments on “River pollution

  1. This is outrageous. We know this area cannot sustain the water requirements of massive development. This at a time when we are ‘pledging’ to repair the natural world and our environment.
    As the saying goes, ‘talk is cheap’.
    Time to stop and review further over, unsustainable developments!

  2. Sip a glass of cool, clear water as you read this, and you may think water pollution is a problem . . . somewhere else. But while most Americans have access to safe drinking water, potentially harmful contaminants from arsenic to copper to lead have been found in the tap water of every single state in the nation.

  3. Pleased to see an interest in the environment taking real shape with district councillors and this particular damage taking place which needs recognition and action
    How active are those causing these problems and are water and sewage responding to this disturbing evidence
    Your own actions are very welcome

    1. Sources are multiple…. industrial, agricultural, road run-off, sewage works. Been going on a long time and will take a time to reverse even assuming Govt has the will. New Environment bill may (or may not?) provide basis for action. Will it be ‘aspirations’ and ‘ambitions’ or legally enforceable?

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