New ‘State of the Environment’ reports from the Environment Agency have been published, covering:

  • water resources – how much clean water we have available
  • water quality – including rivers, estuaries, coasts and groundwater

The reports include status and trends, as well as current and future pressures.

According to the water resources report, rivers and wildlife could be left without sufficient water unless action is taken to reduce water use and wastage.

The first major report on water resources in England states that climate change and demand from a growing population are the biggest pressures on the availability of water. Without action to increase supply, reduce demand and cut down on wastage, many areas in England could see significant supply deficits by 2050 – particularly in the south east.

The key findings of the report are:

  • Impacts of pressures on water resources are evident and will increase with a growing population, changing climate and changes to how we use land.
  • Abstraction, drainage and altered water levels are major causes of damage to wetlands.
  • In 2017, abstraction from around 28% of groundwater bodies and up to 18% of surface waters was at higher than sustainable levels.
  • In 2016, unsustainable abstraction prevented at least 6% and possibly up to 15% of river water bodies from meeting good ecological status or potential.
  • Winter rainfall has increased since the mid-18th century; summer rainfall has decreased slightly over the same period.
  • High winter river flows have increased over the past 30 years, with a subsequent increase in the frequency and magnitude of flooding.
  • There is no clear trend in droughts, but summer river flows and groundwater levels may decrease in the future.

The key findings of the water quality report are:

  • In 2016, 86% of river water bodies had not reached good ecological status. The main reasons for this are agriculture and rural land management, the water industry, and urban and transport pressures.
  • Water quality issues were the cause of 38% of all fish test failures, and 61% of invertebrate test failures in rivers in 2015.
  • Pollutant loads to rivers from water industry discharges have declined in recent years, with reductions of up to 70% since 1995.
  • Over the last decade the number of serious water pollution incidents from water companies has remained broadly the same, with about 60 incidents each year. That is more than one a week.
  • For assessed river water bodies in England, 55% were at less than good status for phosphorus in 2016.
  • Nearly half of groundwater bodies will not reach good chemical status by 2021. For groundwaters protected for drinking water, nitrate levels were responsible for 65% of failures to achieve good chemical status.
  • Bathing water quality has improved over the last 30 years with 98% passing minimum standards and 65% at excellent status in 2017.
  • Population growth, climate change, emerging chemicals, plastic pollution, nano-particles and fracking all present potential future threats to water quality.

Read the water resources and water quality reports here.

Coverage in the Guardian here.

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