England (Parliament Politic Magazine) –The UK government’s departure from the EU’s water quality monitoring standards in England has come to light. Advocates are concerned that this change in approach may result in increased pollution in England’s rivers and water systems if the new measurement methods are less stringent.
During the UK’s membership in the EU, England adhered to the Water Framework Directive (WFD), which mandated an annual nationwide assessment of rivers from both a chemical and ecological standpoint. Following Brexit, the WFD was incorporated into English law, but the government eliminated the mandatory annual testing requirement.
UK to Diverge from EU Water Quality Standards in England
This represents the most recent instance of the UK diverging from EU environmental regulations. Recent analysis has revealed that several toxic chemicals and pesticides, banned in the EU since Brexit, remain legal for use in the UK.
Additionally, government ministers have expressed a desire to revise sewage pollution regulations for housebuilders that were originally derived from the EU.
In 2019, the most recent comprehensive water assessments were conducted, revealing that only 14% of rivers were in good ecological health, and none met the criteria for good chemical health. The government has announced its intention to postpone a full update until 2025, which is the latest permissible date as per the new Water Framework Directive (WFD).
The Guardian has learned that the government plans to employ its own undisclosed methodology to evaluate river health. Activists are concerned that this could hinder comparisons between the condition of the country’s rivers and those in the EU, while also keeping the public uninformed about pollution stemming from sewage and agriculture.
Concerns Arise Over England’s Water Quality Monitoring Changes
Government officials convened meetings with stakeholders to inform them of this change. A source from a non-governmental organization (NGO) present at the meeting reported,
“When questioned about the impact on assessments related to the government’s environmental improvement plan.
The officials stated that this data would no longer be utilized for that purpose, and that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) was considering the use of the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) process to evaluate performance. There are concerns about the readiness and suitability of the NCEA for this purpose.”
A representative from the Environment Agency has verified to The Guardian that data from the Water Framework Directive (WFD) will no longer be employed for these assessments. They explained,
“Through an innovative collaboration involving Defra, Natural England, Environment Agency, Forest Research, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) combines their capabilities, expertise, and experience to construct a more intricate and all-encompassing understanding of our natural environment.
This encompasses the monitoring of both quality and quantity, evaluating the necessity for interventions and their impact, and aiding in the preservation and safeguarding of our natural resources.”
Postponement of Full Water Quality Assessment Until 2025
The likelihood of any data, indicating whether the situation has improved since the 2019 study, which was published in 2020 and embarrassed the government by revealing that no English river met the criteria for good chemical health, being released prior to the next general election is now slim.
Stuart Singleton-White, representing the Angling Trust, expressed his concerns, stating, “The Water Framework Directive (WFD) has served as a fundamental tool in comprehending the condition of our rivers, lakes, and groundwater. While not comprehensive, it provides a valuable starting point.
Previous assessments have demonstrated a deteriorating situation, not improvement. The absence of a complete assessment in 2022 and the delay until 2025 simply fosters uncertainty and deprives the public of an accurate understanding of whether our rivers are experiencing positive or negative changes.”
Criticism of Government’s Handling of Water Quality and Sewage Disposal
During the stakeholder meeting, government officials explained that in 2022, a restricted number of water bodies were assessed due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and financial constraints.
They informed those in attendance that alternative monitoring data would be used to maintain assessments of water quality, but they refrained from extrapolating the limited 2022 assessments to provide a nationwide perspective, as it could introduce a bias in the data. Notably, the 2022 data revealed a deterioration in the condition of the assessed sites.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson on the environment, voiced his criticism, stating, “Rather than cracking down on sewage disposal, government ministers have eased the requirements on water companies and reduced assessments, preventing a thorough understanding of the extent of environmental damage.