Ubiquitous pollutants result in all water bodies failing environmental quality standards

Data on the health of England’s rivers, lakes, canals, coastal waters and groundwaters made grim reading when published last week by the Environment Agency.

More rigorous monitoring of the presence of chemicals revealed a small number of substances, like mercury and PFOS, are everywhere. This meant no surface water bodies met the criteria for achieving good chemical status. This seemed a precipitous fall from the 97% pass rate in 2016, but in fact exposed the shortcomings of the 2016 data rather than any sudden increase in chemical pollution.

There was no overall progress on the ecological status of surface water bodies since the last assessment in 2016. 16% of water bodies (14% of rivers) met the criteria for good ecological status or potential; the 25 Year Environment Plan sets a target of 75%. The key factors here are diffuse pollution from agriculture; nutrient load from fertiliser and sewage; and over abstraction.

Groundwater quality also remained broadly similar to the last classification in 2015, with some deterioration.

Small water bodies were not monitored.