Dirty drains pose a problem says new report

Posted: Friday 1st June 2007

One in five homes and businesses have drains illegally connected to clean water drainage systems causing pollution in our rivers, lakes and groundwater according to a new report published today (30th May) by the Environment Agency.

Tricia Henton, Director of Environment Protection: " Wrong connections of washing machines are common but we also know of cases where entire housing and industrial estates have been incorrectly connected to the drainage system, discharging used dirty water and sewage into surface water drains which go straight to our rivers and groundwaters.

"Resolving the problem of drains wrongly connected to surface water sewers requires homeowners, builders and plumbers to take more care, and for building regulations to be enforced.

"We would like to see the introduction of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) in the building of new homes and becoming a common feature of urban design. SUDs can reduce and intercept pollution by slowing down rainfall run-off in soakways, permeable surfaces, ponds and wetlands. They also help clean the water before it drains into rivers or groundwater. We will continue to work with central and local government to promote the use of SUDS.

"As well as SUDs we want to see simple checks for wrong drainage connections in the new house seller’s pack accepted, this would help to raise awareness of the problem and reduce its impact."

The report, The Unseen Threat to Our Water Quality, looks at how diffuse pollution is affecting rivers, lakes, groundwaters, estuaries and coastal waters in England and Wales. Diffuse pollution occurs when chemicals or other contaminates disperse onto land or into water. It is most visible after rainfall and can take hours, days or years to manifest itself.

Diffuse pollution comes from both rural and urban environments and can include, run-off from roads contaminated with oils and other chemicals - poor drainage from housing estates, accidental chemical and oil spills from transport and industrial sites. It also includes, nutrients, soil and pesticides from farming.

The report also found:

Tricia Henton: continued "As well as becoming an increasing threat to our water quality, diffuse pollution also has social and indirect economic costs. Cleaning up rivers can turn them into natural focal points for business and leisure. The poor quality of many urban rivers adds to social deprivation and deters business investment. Diffuse pollution impacts on fisheries and bathing waters, reducing angling opportunities and limiting recreation and tourism. The costs are difficult to measure but are often likely to be substantial.

"However, there has been good news. We have made great strides in cleaning pollution problems from single sources such as major discharges from sewage treatment works and industry. As a result salmon has returned to our major rivers like the Tees and the Mersey. "

"Diffuse water pollution poses many challenges but we are determined to address the issues in order to improve water quality further. The Water Framework Directive, a significant new piece of environmental legislation requiring all inland and coastal waters to be of ‘good status’ by 2015, will help us in this but it will also require help from industrialists, farmers, planners and the public at large.

"As part of this, we have refocused our monitoring to provide better information on the impacts of diffuse pollution which will enable us to develop relevant, targeted measures to improve water quality. We also want to work with Government on their three forthcoming consultations, looking at tackling problems caused by rural and urban diffuse pollution."

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