The UK government plans to deviate from the EU’s standards for monitoring water quality in England, as revealed recently.
Activists are concerned that the shift in strategy may result in increased contamination in England’s rivers and waterways if the updated evaluation techniques are not as stringent.
During its time in the EU, England was subject to the water framework directive (WFD), which mandated an annual national survey of rivers to assess chemical and ecological conditions. However, after Brexit, the WFD was incorporated into English law but the government eliminated the obligation for annual testing.
The most recent instance of the UK deviating from EU environmental regulations has been discovered. A recent study revealed that numerous harmful chemicals and pesticides, which have been prohibited in the EU since Brexit, are still allowed for use in the UK. Additionally, government officials have attempted to remove rules on sewage pollution that were based on EU guidelines for construction companies.
In 2019, during the most recent water assessments, only 14% of rivers were found to be in good ecological condition and none met the requirements for good chemical health. The government has announced that a comprehensive update will not be provided until 2025, which is the latest allowed deadline under the new Water Framework Directive.
The government plans to use an undisclosed method to evaluate the health of rivers, according to sources at The Guardian. Critics argue that this approach could hinder comparisons between the state of the country’s rivers and those in the EU, and also prevent the public from being fully informed about pollution from sewage and agriculture.
Officials from the government held a meeting with stakeholders to inform them about the modification. According to a representative from an NGO who was present at the meeting, when asked about the impact on evaluations of the government’s environmental improvement plan, the officials stated that this information would no longer be utilized for that purpose. Instead, they are considering using the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) process to assess performance. However, the NGO representative has concerns about the progress of the NCEA and its suitability for this purpose.
A representative from the Environment Agency has informed the Guardian that they will no longer utilize WFD data for their evaluations. They stated that a collaborative effort between Defra, Natural England, Environment Agency, Forest Research, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, known as NCEA, combines skills, knowledge, and experience to create a more thorough understanding of our natural environment. This includes monitoring the quality and quantity of resources, evaluating the effects of interventions, and aiding in the management and preservation of our natural capital.
It is improbable that any information indicating the current state of improvement since the 2019 report released in 2020, which exposed the government for the lack of English rivers in good chemical condition, will be released prior to the upcoming general election.
According to Stuart Singleton-White from the Angling Trust, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is crucial in helping us comprehend the condition of our bodies of water. While it is not comprehensive, it serves as a helpful starting point. Previous evaluations have revealed a decline rather than an improvement. The decision to delay a full assessment until 2025 creates uncertainty and prevents the public from properly understanding if our rivers are deteriorating or improving.
At the stakeholder meeting, government officials stated that due to the Covid-19 pandemic and budget restrictions, only a small number of water bodies were evaluated in 2022. They assured attendees that they would rely on alternative monitoring information to maintain accurate assessments of water quality, but cautioned against using the limited 2022 evaluations as a representation of the entire nation’s condition, as this could introduce bias into the data. The data from 2022 revealed a decline in the condition of the assessed sites.
The Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson, Tim Farron, said: “Instead of clamping down on sewage dumping, ministers have let water companies off the hook and scaled back assessments so we could know exactly how much damage has been done. It is frankly a disgrace. The whole system needs a complete overhaul. That means abolishing Ofwat and setting up a new regulator with real teeth and ensuring that testing is carried out regularly so we can get a full picture of the damage being done to our countryside.”
A representative from the Environment Agency stated that enhancing the quality of water is at the top of our list of priorities. We follow established plans under water environment regulations to direct our permitting and enforcement efforts. This work must be supported by solid evidence and we are collaborating with partners to improve the availability of information, including real-time data. The next thorough update of classifications for all water bodies is scheduled for 2025. There are no major changes planned for the classification methodology, including the “one out, all out” principle. Each and every water body will be given a classification.