Inland Waterways and Rivers: Pollution Control

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 24th June 2019.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to clean up rivers and waterways to ensure that they are safe habitats for (a) wildlife and (b) recreational swimmers.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Current updated River Basin Management Plans, published in 2016, provide the framework for protecting and improving the water environment for wildlife, people and the economy for the period up to 2021. Plans for England confirm over £3 billion of investment by 2021, leading to improvements in at least 680 water bodies, with an overall target to enhance at least 5000 miles of waters by 2021. These plans will be reviewed and updated in 2021 to take account of progress that has been made and what can be achieved by 2027.

Over the last two decades there have been significant improvements in water quality in rivers. Independent analysis of Environment Agency (EA) data by the University of Cardiff in 2014 showed that wildlife such as Atlantic salmon, mayflies, and dippers dependent on cleaner waters have been progressively recolonising in England's urban rivers over this 20 year period. However, there is still more to do to improve river habitats and to protect the environment from deterioration in the future.

For recreational swimmers, there are over 400 locations in England formally designated as bathing waters which are managed to meet stringent water quality standards to protect health. The EA monitors these waters throughout the bathing season (May to September), investigates pollution sources and works with partners to reduce pollution risks. The EA also issues daily forecasts of bathing water during the bathing season on the internet to help inform bathers of pollution risks. In 2018, 97.9% of bathing waters met minimum standards sufficient for bathing and 67.1% met even more stringent standards.

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