At last, England’s dying rivers are an election issue – and the danger isn’t just sewage | George Monbiot | The Guardian

Voters are finally furious about water pollution, but tackling it means unpicking a complex web of assaults from source to sea

I can’t help feeling a small surge of gratitude every time an environmental issue breaks the surface. That the state of England’s rivers seems at last to have become an election issue feels slightly miraculous, after so many years in which campaigners have swum against the political flow.

In wards across the country, people who are furious about the pollution of their rivers and coasts seem prepared to vote accordingly in Thursday’s local elections. The Labour party has at last smelled blood in the water. Keir Starmer has promised “real action on this scandal”, but the action doesn’t yet extend even to renationalising the water companies, though this policy would be overwhelmingly popular.

While I’m glad to see this flood of public concern, there is a danger here: of reducing the issue to sewage pollution. This problem, in turn, is reduced to the malfeasance of the water companies. Sewage pollution is a massive and disgusting cause of rivercide in the UK. But if it were eliminated entirely our rivers would still be dying.

The assaults extend from source to sea. They start with the extreme mismanagement of our uplands. As they are burned, drained and overgrazed, their capacity for retaining water is reduced. Instead of acting as giant sponges that gradually release the water they contain, the degradation of the uplands ensures that water levels fluctuate violently: one day a river might be in flood, soon afterwards its flow might be dangerously low.

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