Water quality in rivers in Suffolk not meeting targets

6:50 PM May 17, 2022

None of Suffolk’s rivers are meeting pollution targets and experts are looking at ways to deal with the crisis.

Anglian Water, the Environment Agency, Essex and Suffolk Rivers Trust and Suffolk County Council joined the Suffolk Flood Risk Committee on Tuesday morning to discuss the issue.

A report said county-designated bathing places in Lowestoft, Southwold and Felixstowe were rated as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ but said ‘all our rivers are failing to meet the government’s target and the Water Framework Directive (WFD)’.

Some of the main conclusions of the meeting were:

Why sewage ends up in water

In the event of a power outage, a pumping station can discharge untreated sewage, while extremely wet weather can cause an overflow into the Combined Storm Overflow where there is “so much water in the system that jobs can’t handle everything”.

Combined storm overflows are no longer built, but remain a legacy from the early to mid-20th century, when they were built to protect homes from sewer flooding. Anglian Water said they were not a solution to modern problems and are installing “duration event monitors” on them to gauge the extent of the problem and weed out the worst offenders.

Blockages in these occur for three reasons – when inappropriate items are dropped into the sink or toilet, rising groundwater seeping into the sewers, and too much water due to events such as strong rains.

More sustainably, Anglian Water says work to stop excess water seeping into the sewers was needed and better solutions at the planning stage for new builds were needed to ensure natural drainage.

Wastewater is not the only problem

The Environment Agency has reported that agricultural sources of pollution “are at least as much of a problem as discharges from water companies”, prompting the agency to hire officers specifically to work on agricultural inspections and regulate agriculture.

E. coli has been identified in the River Deben

“E. coli has been recognized, but is still being analyzed to determine if it is effluent related to sewage treatment plants or livestock,” said Andy Went, capture manager for the Essex and Suffolk Rivers Trust.

Amount of water

Mr Went said: ‘It is projected, with climate change, by 2050 that summer rainfall will be 39 per cent lower in the region’, and added that river flows could be ’81 per cent lower than what they are now”.

He said it would be the opposite in winter with large increases in river flow and rainfall.

A strategic pipeline from the north of the region is planned by Anglian Water to bring more water to Essex and Suffolk.

It also encourages people to be more efficient with water and to use methods such as water tanks and rainwater harvesting.

Experts from several organizations are trying to improve the water quality of rivers
– Credit: Su Anderson

Funding went to water monitoring

The Environment Agency has reported a drop in its government funding for monitoring and incident response work. He said since 2009 his funding had fallen by 63% to £40m in 2020.

For example, this year it has seven sites along the River Stour for water chemistry monitoring, up from 20 in 2017.

The organization said it now relies less on grab samples with workers and more on devices that stay permanently in the water and relay real-time data.

Ben Marshall, senior environment officer at the Environment Agency, said: “We recognize that rivers are nowhere near as good as they should be, and in a very tight financial climate, we have to work hard with the water companies, the agricultural sector and try to find improvements in our own organization so that we can deliver more for less than we are receiving at the moment.”

“Citizen science” monitoring could be used as a means of collecting future data.

Water companies under investigation

Mr Marshall said there is currently a national inquiry into water companies and their overflow sewers, but could not give further details on its scope. He did, however, confirm that there had not been a live-only investigation in Suffolk.

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