Water Quality Testing: River Wey
ZERO is launching a 'citizen science' water quality testing programme in Guildford, to monitor the quality of the river Wey and our surrounding waterways.
We're teaching Surrey residents how to test river water quality in their area, to help build an open source database of river quality across the area, with the goal that one day we might achieve bathing water status in the area. That is a lofty and difficult goal, but we've got good fortune on our side!
Just as we opened our doors, Kat Kavanagh, founder and executive director of Water Rangers strolled through them. Water Rangers is a Canadian-based charity, which facilitates and supports river water testing projects right across the world. With Kat’s expert help, we are putting together a programme of citizens science river water testing to help monitor and protect our local waterways.
But ZERO is about collaboration, so of course we're going one step further! Through Water Rangers we're also teaming up with FreshWaterWatch, to allow our data to be shared shared and used by more researchers, right across the globe! FreshWaterWatch has conducted water quality blitzes for the entire Thames watershed (of which we're a part!) and we're excited to continue to collaborate with them to collect water quality observations!
Guildford's River Water Quality
You can track all of ZERO's water quality results, as well as those of our pals over at The River Wey Trust, at the Water Rangers weblinks below:
A Decade Of Pollution
‘Britain’s Rivers Come Back To Life!’ That was the headline proudly shouted by The Independent in December 2010.
Serious water pollution incidents had halved since 2001, and invertebrate populations - a great way of measuring river health - had been rising steadily. All the evidence showed that we absolutely can tackle environmental degradation when government and communities prioritise environmental protection for the health of local residents and ecosystems. Fast forward 12 years and it's not such a pretty picture.
Something In The Water (and it's probably sewage).
In 2009, 14% of rivers which achieved ‘Good’ ecological status. But by 2021 that figure hadn't increased at all. But the horrifying part is that today, 0% of the UK’s rivers are given 'Good’ chemical status.
To put into context just how far and how rapidly environmental standards have slipped, as recently as 2016, 97% of rivers were achieving 'Good' chemical status! The standards of testing have changed slightly since 2016, but this drastic decline demonstrates the reality that agricultural runoff, sewage discharge, and chemical pollution are having on our local streams and rivers. Waterways that are our communal right to enjoy are now simply dumping grounds for polluters emboldened by weakening of environmental protection.
Climate Change and River Quality
As well as chemical pollution, the climate crisis is also having a significant impact on our rivers and water ways.
UK rivers have seen an average 1-2°C rise in temperatures over the last couple of decades, resulting in a significant growth of harmful algae. This combined with the bonfire of environmental protections has led to a scenario in which the UK boasts a grand total of zero designated river bathing spots. In fact, of the 30 countries who designate and monitor wild bathing sites, we rank 24th out of 30.
On top of that, the climate crisis is driving more frequent and more intense weather events. Increased frequency in flooding driven by climate change backs up sewers, which then overflow into our waterways through storm drains and other outlets, creating pollution incidents. Scotland is the worst hit area of the UK, with volume of flood water increasing by as much as 55% in the last 50 years!
Why Conduct River Water Testing In Guildford?
It’s pretty easy to get sucked into thinking that without Government enforcing clear rules on those that keep polluting our rivers there’s minimal chance of us succeeding in cleaning them up. But if we took that attitude to everything we’d never get anywhere! So instead of getting all doom, gloom & algal bloom we want to take positive action to sort out Guildford’s waterways!
And there's several reasons why river quality testing can be the catalyst, not just in Guildford, but wherever you are!
Testing Makes You CARE
There’s a strong correlation showing that the more you do to tackle the climate crisis, the more positive you feel that we’ll avert the worst of it. Positivity breeds action, and vice versa.
This holds true when it comes to river quality testing as well! When people test and interact with their local waterways, they begin to feel protective of them. This is a critical piece of tackling climate change, by building nature connectedness to help us remember the vital roles our ecosystems play in supporting life on earth. This bears out in Water Rangers own research, and they’re currently working with McGill and Carleton universities to study this relationship. Research - Water Rangers
Water Rangers sampling of their participants demonstrates that people who get out and test water also:
Leads to a greater appreciation of wildlife and local ecosystems
Encourages you to venture out to new testing sites
Helps increase awareness of your surroundings, identifying and caring about pollution and other negative impacts
Prompts testers to think about other ways you can protect your local ecosystems
Science For The 21st Century
There are enormous gaps in river quality data. And worse, the Environment Agency is frequently criticised for the testing that is conducted as being infrequent, or intentionally misleading.
It would be impossible for those working in the field to comprehensively test all waterways in the UK - and that’s where citizen scientists come in! Citizen Science programmes collate data through open source platforms, building an enormous repository of data which can then be used for study by actual scientists, who analyse the data collected by you to build a picture of river health.
The next Water Rangers Event
Testing the Wey by the White House
What Does This Project Achieve?
The blue areas of the graph show the increased frequency of extreme flooding events between 1980 - 2015
What Problem Is This Addressing?
The problem in a nutshell:
The UK has 0 dedicated river swimming spots, after the only one in the country, Ilkley lost its status
0% of the UK's rivers have achieved a 'Good' chemical status
The figure of 14% of rivers achieving 'Good ecological' status has not risen in a decade
A majority of MPs in the House Of Commons - including Guildford's Angela Richardson - voted to allow sewage companies to dump untreated sewage into Surrey's rivers. The reason? It would cost water companies 'too much money'. It turns out, profits of huge water companies wasn't the primary concern of Surrey residents!
The Environment Agency Isn't Cutting It
Before we have a dig at the EA it's important to put into context why so much criticism is being levelled at them - including by their own staff. The EA's budget from government for environmental protection measures has roughly halved since 2010. Whilst the overall budget has gone up, most of this has gone toward dealing with the impacts of climate change - namely flooding (a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, meaning heavier rainfall, and increased flooding).
The Environment Agency no longer even responds to some pollution incidents, with EA staff calling the agency 'toothless'. Interviewed earlier this year by a national newspaper on EA officer stated, ''if you can’t charge for something it gets a lower priority, which is why a lot of the officer roles have been cut – those that go out to pollution events and inspect works … it’s been cut and cut and cut.''
Cleaning Up our Rivers
We've shown that we have the power to turn this destruction of our local rivers and streams around. We've done it before, and just a decade ago we were reaping the benefits of that hard work. Dedicated members of our communities stood together to protect their local environment, pushing government to act on the loss of our waterways. And now we need to do it again.
Only now the challenge is harder, with the UK Government actively pushing to allow the dumping of raw sewage into our local rivers to save companies a few quid. So this time we're really going to have to step up to the plate, together, as communities, in the face of our right to clean water being stripped away - but we've done it before, we can do it again. Sign up to our mailing list today to stay up to date with river testing events, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be linked up with the team.