Death of a river

It was great to have Essex Live reporter Charlie Ridler join Richard Pavitt to witness the poor state of the Uttlesford stretch of the river Cam. He spent a couple of hours observing phosphate testing in the river at Newport, Wendens Ambo, Littlebury and Great Chesterford, and saw the dismal condition of the river bed.

You can read the outcome on the Essex Live website.

Doing his job as a journalist Charlie contacted the Environment Agency (EA) and Anglian Water about the pollution. The responses he received are typical of the smoke & mirrors obfuscation that surrounds the lack of enforcement of regulations and chronic lack of investment in sewage infrastructure.

Here is a typical example of the kind of meaningless drivel that emanates from the EA: “The Environment Agency is not aware of any breaches at Newport Treatment Works but will continue to monitor the site closely.”

When presented with our results Anglian Water responded: “We currently have no permit limits from the Environment Agency for phosphate discharges to the River Cam at Newport.”

So, the EA is not aware of any breaches of limits they haven’t set. And Anglian Water is at liberty to chuck as much phosphorous into the river as they choose because no one has told them not to. Ask yourself this: why would the EA “continue to monitor the site closely” when they have not set any permitted maximum for phosphorous discharge?

Phosphorous in rivers, especially in chalk streams when above low background levels, is damaging. It is a nutrient that accelerates algae growth and robs water of oxygen. In the delicate ecology of chalk streams such as the Cam, it can be devastating. Click here to learn more about the subject.

Phosphorous levels in the Cam, especially downstream of the Newport sewage treatment works, are far beyond the guidance set by DEFRA, and the recommended DEFRA level is already considerably higher than the generally accepted level for a healthy chalk stream.

Pollution of our rivers from sewage treatment works is not an overnight phenomenon. It has been known about by Govt and the water industry for many years and it has got worse. The subject has only come into public view due to tireless campaigning and naming & shaming by action groups and conservation bodies.

Comment from Richard: I have to extend a personal vote of thanks to Feargal Sharkey for the help he has provided (and a vote of admiration for his tenacity and campaigning zeal)  and also to thank Stephen Tompkins and Mike Foley of Cam Valley Forum for their guidance.

Other articles on our web site covering water and pollution:

Privatisation isn’t working

Another water scandal

Water crisis ahead

Sewage in rivers: Legal?

Stink in the Commons

River sacrifice


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