A retired detective and academic investigate the health of their river
August 4, 2022 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Guardian longread. A story on the deteriorating water quality in British rivers.
posted by Ned G (7 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
For those who are boycotting the Guardian over their repeated platforming of transphobes, an archive link.
posted by thoroughburro at 5:34 AM on August 4 [6 favorites]


As a boy in the 1980s, I swam past vast swarms of mayfly and huge leaping salmon. I have seen nothing like that for years.
...
the latest Welsh survey shows the first decline in their population since the 1970s. The number of salmon caught in rivers by anglers in England and Wales has dropped from about 20,000 a year in the mid-1980s to fewer than 10,000 a year now.
...
In England and Wales, the water companies were privatised in the late 1980s
...
As the enforcement budget has shrunk, so have prosecutions.


And there you go. Privatization and inadequate regulation, particularly under Tory governments. I'll bet the rivers on their private grouse moors are healthy as can be, though.

(in Scotland and Northern Ireland, [the water companies] remain nationalised)

I would have liked to have seen a comparison with the health of rivers in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
posted by jedicus at 5:54 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]


A while back I was chatting with my partner about Feargal Sharkey. They once saw him play in a pub in Ireland, and found that the person sitting next to them was his Mum. Just for a laugh, I followed him on Twitter.

It turns out that he's now a noted campaigner for water quality in the UK, and the stuff he shares about the mismanagement of water is just bloody horrific. Privatised water is destroying whole ecosystems, people are regularly hospitalised from swimming in polluted rivers and even the sea. Southern Britain will face water shortages due to profit-extraction, and FFS this is a place famous for being wet.

Even Australian water-thieves would be astonished by the brazenness.
posted by pompomtom at 6:10 AM on August 4 [11 favorites]


I've been following this with some interest.

I live in a Southern Water area. Some days, as I walk past the point where the sewage plant discharges (nominally) clean water into the tidal creek, I can smell detergent, and when I look down at the water, it's full of peaks of foam. So clean you could do your dishes in it?

Other days, there's unpleasant-looking scum floating about.

The creek supports life - gulls, waders, even a kingfisher - so it can't be as bad as I think it is, but I certainly wouldn't want to swim in it, and neither does anyone else.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:56 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


A while back I was chatting with my partner about Feargal Sharkey...

Feargal Sharkey comes by his interest in water because he's an angler. He lives in a chalk stream area - globally rare habitats mainly found in southern England. The aquifers that supply chalk streams also supply drinking water for large swathes of the population, and this, coupled with climate change, has affected the water flow in the streams. Low water in streams means, among other things, that anglers cannot fish. He's subsequently used his fame very effectively (and genuinely) to campaign on water and rivers.
posted by plonkee at 1:15 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]


I would have liked to have seen a comparison with the health of rivers in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

None of Northern Ireland’s 496 rivers, lakes and coastal waters have achieved a “good overall status” rating for water quality, a report has said.

Scotland is much better, about half of rivers are good or better.
posted by atrazine at 3:21 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


When we talk about bodies of water meeting "good" standards, that is a reference to the Water Framework Directive which is transposed into UK law from the EU, that means we can compare to other European countries.

Status map of surface waters shows that basically the whole Northwestern corner of Europe is a basket case. England, The Netherlands, Germany, Northern France, it's all bad.

And there you go. Privatization and inadequate regulation, particularly under Tory governments. I'll bet the rivers on their private grouse moors are healthy as can be, though.

Well, despite the damage that heather burning does to soils, yes, pretty good. Part of the reason for good condition of water in the Scottish highlands is that destroying local agriculture during the clearances and then turning it into a giant hunting reserve has kept the population of people low and industrial agriculture out (anyway the highlands aren't very suitable for that).

Those streams are also valuable salmon fishing and since landowners control often both banks for considerable lengths, they do put effort into protecting the water quality for that purpose.

It is probably worth noting that while there is a lot that you can say about the wisdom of privatising water and the parlous condition of Southern, or Thames Water's assets in particular, that map doesn't immediately point to that as the most obvious cause for poor surface water quality. French water is owned municipally but usually managed by private companies like Veolia and Suez (including wastewater) and Dutch sewage treatment is municipally owned and managed. I don't really see that this has led to much better results in terms of river water quality.

Nobody who works for the Guardian can read languages other than English1 though so that kind of reporting isn't really within their wheelhouse.

(1) The Guardian is for people who can only read English but are a bit ashamed about that. Unlike the Daily Mail which is for people who can also only read English but think that Johnny Foreigner just has to jolly well put up with that.
posted by atrazine at 7:04 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


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