fancy a swim?

jasonb

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bit of a none thread now...basically an article in the FT slating the cleanliness of the rivers in England, cant put a link up as you need to subscribe, i'll try and copy/paste



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Every two years families crowd the river Windrush with homemade rafts for the Swinbrook and Asthall Riverday festival, on the edge of Britain’s picturesque Cotswolds region. But this year the organisers decided against it.“We couldn’t risk people getting sick,” says Robin Meech, a festival organiser, who has not used his fishing permit on the river for three years. “Part of the fun is people falling into the river but we couldn’t let them do that knowing there is neat, undiluted sewage in it.” Water quality in the river Windrush in Oxfordshire has deteriorated rapidly since 2010, according to activists — a period that has coincided with the Environment Agency handing responsibility for pollution monitoring to the nine large water and sewage companies in England. Windrush is not the only river where pollution is on the rise and it is not just raft races that are being cancelled. Only 14 per cent of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards according to an Environment Agency report in 2018 as defined by the EU Water Framework directive — down from almost 25 per cent in 2009. Much of the pollution is caused by 17,684 licensed emergency sewer overflows, places where the agency has permitted water companies to spill untreated sewage into rivers up and down the country. Although they are designed to spew raw effluent only during extreme rainfall, they are discharging even when there is light rain because treatment facilities have not been modernised and there is insufficient capacity in the system, according to a 2017 World Wildlife Fund report.No one knows exactly how much raw sewage is being released, or the duration and frequency of discharges, because most pipes are not monitored and under the self-reporting system it is up to individual water companies to tell the regulator. But one water company, quoted by the WWF, said 14 per cent of its overflows were spilling at least once a week.Farming and water run-off from roads also contribute, but Andrew Singer, senior scientist at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, says that if the levels of raw sewage discharged because of faulty equipment or “storming” — when the sewage tanks flood — were quantified, it would be clear that these contribute “more damage” than agriculture.




A scanning electron micrograph image of E.coli. The bacteria is present in many of England's waterways



Separating water from sewage is arguably the single most crucial factor in protecting public health. But the toxic cocktail of chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and untreated waste in England’s rivers is adding to questions over whether the decision to allow private players to run the public water system for profit is working. Privatisation was designed to bring greater efficiency to the management of utilities, but the WWF found instead that a short-term approach had passed the “real cost on to future generations”.Water companies, represented by Water UK, say rivers have improved since privatisation and that they have provided “protection or improvements to over 15,000km of rivers since 1995.” They also say they have submitted plans that include cutting pollution incidents by 90 per cent.River water quality in England lags behind much of Europe, including Romania and Slovakia, according to a European Environment Agency report published last year that said it had deteriorated since its last assessment in 2010. Scotland — which has its own state-owned water company — massively outperformed its neighbours with water standards similar to much of Scandinavia. On the quality of groundwater — which provides as much as 50 per cent of drinking water across Europe — only parts of Spain performed as poorly as England.The Environment Agency says there has “been dramatic improvements to water quality over the past two decades” adding that the EU waters assessment “doesn’t provide a complete picture of the progress that has been made on improving water quality in England.” It has also introduced ambitious targets to meet EU standards by 2027, which requires all effluent to be treated.But as it stands, none of England’s rivers are safe enough to swim in because of the risk of people getting sick with E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, adenovirus and ultimately — though rarely — the potentially lethal leptospirosis.




The water quality of the river Windrush in the Cotswolds has deteriorated rapidly over the past decade, say campaigners



Helen Smith’s 11-year-old daughter, “vomited over and over” for three days after swimming in the Ilkley river at Burley on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales last July. She was not the only one to get sick, according to Karen Shackleton, founding member of the Ilkley Clean River campaign, who says the sewage storm tanks overflow “regularly under what we consider moderate rain — just 8mm of total rainfall on one particular August day — hardly a ‘storm’ by anyone’s standards”.Ms Shackleton worries that tourists visiting the historic spa town are swimming in sewage without realising it. “There are not even any signs by the outflow pipes so people don’t know what they are bathing in,” she says. “People do get sick.”Yorkshire Water, which supplies 5m customers in the north of England, including Ilkley, says it is “investigating the issue” and has installed an extra pump at the treatment works that has “significantly reduced overflows in the past year”.But without substantial investment Mr Singer warns that water quality is likely to deteriorate further under the pressures of climate change and population growth, which mean there is less water to dilute the sewage, damaging the delicate river ecosystem.




Discharge pipe into the river Thames, London. Most of the capital's outflow pipes are not monitored



He accuses water companies of being “wilfully ignorant” about the scale of the pollution problem. “Wastewater treatments are constantly having failures and the water companies are happy to let this happen because if they addressed the raw sewage the costs would be astronomical,” he says.The concerns over river pollution come at a time when the water industry is under fire for paying executives and shareholders lucrative rewards while raising customer bills and failing to stem leakage. Almost a quarter of treated water supplies are lost through leaks while there have been a series of high profile accidents involving sewage plant failures. The EU is considering whether the UK breached the urban wastewater treatment directive by failing to take appropriate measures on sewage spills in Sunderland and London. Southern Water, which supplies 4.6m customers across the south of England, is also under investigation by Ofwat, the water regulator, after raw sewage washed up on some Kent beaches, closing them for nine days in 2012. That follows Thames Water’s record £20.3m fine in 2017 for dumping 4.2bn litres of sewage in the Thames and its tributaries after it failed to maintain plant equipment in a case described by the judge as “borderline deliberate”. The failures mean that three decades after the regional state-run monopolies were handed to private companies free of debt, and with a £1.5bn grantto invest in environmental improvements, the opposition Labour party is calling for renationalisation of the water companies that are now saddled with debt of £51bn.The need for more investment is clear. EU directives to improve water quality triggered a brief spending surge in the 1990s, with capital expenditure — including improvements to sewage treatment plants — averaging £5.5bn a yearin the first two decades after privatisation. But despite growth in population and housing stock, spending declined by 10 per cent to £4.56bn a year in the 10 years to March 2018 — even though water bills rose, according to research published by Greenwich university based on annual Ofwat reports.Polluted waterways




£20.3mThames Water’s 2017 fine for dumping 4.2bn litres of sewage in its rivers after it failed to maintain plant equipment17,864England and Wales’s licensed emergency sewer overflows, where untreated sewage is allowed to spill into rivers£4.56bnWater companies’ average annual capex in the decade to March 2018, a fall of 10% compared with the first two decades of privatisation A 2011 report by the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that it would take 800 years to renew the sewage systems — most of which were last upgraded 50 years ago.Cat Hobbs, head of We Own It, a group that campaigns for renationalisation, argues there is a direct conflict between the public duty to improve water supplies and private water companies taking a profit. “Water is a natural monopoly,” she says. “You don’t get a choice of the water coming out of your tap. We are a captive market so the water company shareholders have us over a barrel.”Since 2012, this conflict between private interests and public duty has been played out in Europe after Yorkshire Water and United Utilities went to the European Court of Justice. They claimed that England’s water monopolies were private businesses, not “public authorities”, and, therefore, should be exempt from disclosing when or how much sewage they were releasing. The UK government supported the companies’ “right to secrecy”.The case was brought by Fish Legal, a group of fishermen, who declared victory in 2016 when a UK court applied the ECJ ruling that privately run water companies in England and Wales were, in effect, public authorities on the grounds that they had “special powers” to access private land and impose hosepipe bans.David Wolfe, a lawyer for Fish Legal, says the decision has allowed activists to demand greater disclosure. “Until 2016 water companies could essentially pollute the river without the Environment Agency monitoring and without having to publish any data. Now that has changed,” he says. Activists, however, say the information is still difficult to obtain. Water companies are supposed to tell the agency how often they pollute rivers but Mark Lloyd, chief executive of Fish Legal, says water companies have “such a clear motive and opportunity to falsify results”. “Allowing companies to monitor their own performance is like asking criminals to police themselves,” he adds. UK Water did not provide a response for publication regarding Mr Lloyd’s concerns.Faced with public pressure, the Environment Agency is levying heftier fines — £21.7m worth in 2017 — and raising the number of “enforcement” actions, which allow water companies to settle complaints in exchange for reparations or a contribution to charities.But campaigners say many of the cases that reach court are only brought following dogged persistence by individuals. Fish Legal used civil law to bring a case against Anglian Water after it allegedly killed hundreds of fish on the river Cam following sewage plant failures, finally winning the case after five years in February. Although the EA designated it a “category one” incident, it had decided not to prosecute.Theo Thomas, founder of the London Waterkeeper, which wants rivers to be “fit to swim in”, says “the authorities are failing to defend the environment. Grudging improvements mean we won’t have the flourishing urban rivers we need.” The EA says it does not just rely on self-reporting and has raised environmental targets for water companies, including a requirement to fit monitors on 75 per cent of sewage overflows by next year. Yet the shortcomings of the system are obvious. Of the 35 tunnels that pour sewage into the river Thames between Richmond Lock and Putney Bridge in the capital — a distance of about 14km — only 12 have telemeters, which monitor the number of times waste pours into the river. And even then, they cannot measure the volume.Thames Water cites a new “super sewer” — a £4.6bn storm tunnel being built under the river Thames, and says its “£10.9bn business plan will . . . help tackle emerging issues such as substantial population growth and the effects of climate change”.But the new storm tunnel will not address problems upstream on the Thames or smaller rivers and waterways, concerns exacerbated by the Environment Agency reducing site inspections. In 2017, there were nearly 5,000 fewer visits by EA officers than in 2014, the year when the agency started recording data in its current form.

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Thames Water operates 351 sewage treatment plants, but although the Environment Agency aims to conduct inspections once every eight years, in 2017 it only managed to visit 17, rather than 33, according to the Windrush campaigners.Back on the river bank, the damage is clearly visible: there is no swarm of May flies that would signal a river’s health and the colour is a soupy milky-grey. Fishermen have been advised to let caught fish swim in a bucket of clean water for three days to purge them of bacteria, pathogens and parasites. “No one ever asks the water companies why they dump sewage,” says Ashley Smith, a retired policeman who heads the Windrush Against Sewage Pollution group. “They do it because they can get away with it.”Letters in response to this article:Clean and safe water flows from accurate data / From Callum Clench, Paris, FranceOur water quality is better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution / From Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive, Environment Agency, UK
 
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Simon R

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That could have been a good article if they hadn't missed out on the most important bits.
The reason the system was changed in 2010 so that the water companies monitored themselves was because the new Tory government starved the EA of funds from the moment 'Call Me Dave' entered no.10 - after all they needed to get the money to prop the banks up from somewhere - from my days working in the sewerage industry I got to know a fair few of the local pollution prevention staff and I used to bump into them, when I worked in an office on the same estate in Thornaby. That office closed and about 50% of the staff found themselves out of work - they physically couldn't monitor for pollution anymore so had to devise a solution very quickly. It was perhaps fortunate that a few years earlier the EA had insisted that every water company owned outfall into every body of water be listed and logged - so at least they knew where they all were.

The situation regarding the EAs chronic lack of funding hasn't improved and as stated in the article above it only visited about half of the STW it was supposed to in 2017. The 'Windrush campaigners' should be aiming their anger at the Government rather than the EA or the water companies.

£4.56bnWater companies’ average annual capex in the decade to March 2018, a fall of 10% compared with the first two decades of privatisation
I presume that accompanied a glossy chart or something similar.
Every year (or five years in the case of the AMP) the water companies go cap in hand to OFWAT regarding their funding for the next 12 months - from a sewerage point of view that's generally split into repair and maintenance, minor capital schemes and major capital schemes. The latter is mainly aimed at alleviating flooding of properties due to hydraulic inadequacies in the sewerage system - as a knock-on effect though storm overflows that were built to prevent flooding in the first place may be abandoned. The problem is that OFWAT is very conscious that the general public will not react favourably to water bills rising above the rate of inflation - and yet they must if the water companies are to carry out their capex programmes. The other reason that the capex has fallen is that the water companies now prioritise the schemes they invest in - it used to be the case that there'd be a list of flooding problems (the infamous 2 in 10 list) and once one scheme had been completed the next on the list would be tackled - based generally on how long they'd been there. That has now changed and schemes are evaluated according to the benefit to the customer - so for instance a £1 million scheme that removes 5 properties from the list will be tackled before a £5 million scheme that removes 10 properties - hence the reduction in capex spend - but it's now spent more wisely and, importantly, without huge increases in customers bills.

Storm Sewage (or Combined Sewage) Overflows have historically been added to sewerage systems to cure flooding problems and when they operate correctly (ie only discharging during heavy rainfall when the receiving water course is also in flood) don't cause many problems - the dilution factor is huge. You ask the man in the street if he'd prefer three feet of sewage in his front room or a similar amount in the local river and I can guess which he'd plump for. These environmental campaigners will have never suffered sewage flooding - I've seen it first hand dozens of times (I was the guy who used to go out and get shouted at - helps to have a thick skin (y)) and it's devastating - especially when it happens two or three times and the householder finds he can no longer obtain insurance.

One final thing to point out - if the water companies discover that an overflow is operating outside of it's consent and causing pollution (generally due to a blockage) it's in there own interests to inform the EA - firstly they will inspect the site and advise on mitigation measures, secondly if they decide to prosecute (which they often don't if the clean-up has been done satisfactorily and the overflow is not one that blocks regularly) any subsequent fines will be far less than if the EA had discovered the pollution themselves. The amount that the water companies are allowed to increase their bills above inflation (known as the K value) depends upon a number of factors - one being the number of pollution incidents and level of fines. The best performing companies get the biggest increases - so it's in their own interests to work with the EA, get a better OFWAT rating and, at the end of the day, increase the shareholders dividends.

I don't know who wrote that article but they do seem to have got themselves confused regarding the distinction between what the water companies do and what the EA do. Shame they didn't mention things like the European Urban Waste Water Directive (that Spain, Italy and France all failed) and tertiary treatment at sewage treatment works.
Some interesting reading here regarding sewage flooding Flooding from Public Sewers

Simon
 

rudd

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I read that article last Thursday in Vienna over breakfast, has it only just appeared online?
 

jasonb

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I don't normally read the financial times but my job now gives me free subscription so found it today while seeing what FT was all about
 

jasonb

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The EA reply

Response by Sir James Bevan to FT article: Can England clean up its dirty rivers?

From Sir James

Our water quality is better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution From Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive, Environment Agency.

It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor (“Blighted by pollution”, The Big Read, June 13). Water quality is now better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by the Environment Agency and others. Rivers that were so polluted that they were severely biologically damaged two decades ago are now thriving with wildlife such as otters, dippers and mayflies returning. Over the past 20 years EA teams have taken more than 50m samples to monitor water quality around the country.

The EU’s water framework directive means that the failure of one test can prevent a river from achieving good ecological status overall but this often does not tell the whole story. During the last round of testing, 76 per cent of the tests used to measure the health of rivers were rated as good, and last year 98 per cent of bathing waters at 420 locations passed tough quality standards, compared with less than a third in the 1990s.

The EA has also required water companies to install new monitoring systems on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). By March next year more than 11,500 CSOs will be monitored as the first phase of this work is completed. It is not true that the EA simply relies on the water companies to tell us what they are discharging into watercourses. We carry out our own monitoring of rivers to ensure we have independent evidence and we regularly inspect water treatment plants and sewage works. If companies are failing to abide by the law or the terms of their permits we will take action to ensure that they do, up to and including prosecution.

Since 1990, the water industry has invested almost £28bn in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality. I agree that there are still too many serious pollution incidents and we have called for tougher penalties for water companies where they are shown to be at fault. In the past three years we have brought 31 prosecutions against water companies, resulting in more than £30m in fines, and we will continue, alongside the other water regulators, to act to ensure that people, wildlife and the environment are protected. Sir James Bevan Chief Executive, Environment Agency, UK
 

rudd

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I don't normally read the financial times but my job now gives me free subscription so found it today while seeing what FT was all about
LOL, I also received free subscription this week!
 
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