ep@w: home
Unit 1 Env Awareness Unit 2 Env Assessment
Unit 3 Env Practice

Contact Us
ep@w copyright ep@w site map search ep@w ep@w activities ep@w study guide

We take clean drinking water for granted in the UK. We even flush our toilets with it.

The presence of abundant freshwater supplies has in the past contributed to the development in the UK of industries such as textiles, engineering, breweries, chemicals and dye working. This same demand for water has brought it's own problems in recent years. The very industries and other activities which water resources have helped to develop are threatening the supply and quality of water.

In the 19th century pollution from major cities would be let out into the extensive river systems and eventually find its way to the sea. In modern times the problem can be traced to several factors.

Sewage pumped into lakes and streams also heavily contributes to the pollution. Oil and sewage were the two most commonly identified pollutants in the 25,300 water pollution incidents in England and Wales in 1993. Each accounted for about a quarter of substantiated incidents.

High concentrations of fertilisers in crops have led to a huge growth of toxic algae, depleting the water supply. Along with acid rain, eutrophication threatens to wipe out more than 15 percent of key wild areas in England. Excessive production of algae even threatens human health.

Rivers in Severn trent, Anglian, and Thames NRA regions had the highest levels of nitrates and orthophosphates in 1993.

In Northwest England high levels of lead are found naturally in the water supply. Acid rain also causes higher levels of lead contaminants because the water pipes are vulnerable to high levels of acidity found in such rain. Replacement of lead pipes has led to a reduction in levels of contaminants, but has not all together solved the problem. It is estimated that 20 percent of the UK still exceeds the World Health Organization lead standard of 10 micrograms per litre of water.

Another more recent concern of water pollution for the region has to do with flooded mines. Abandoned copper mines owned by british Coal, have stained several rivers orange. This in turn has led to heavier purification costs. british Coal spends 6 million a year pumping clean water from the Durham coal field alone.

The UK Environmental White Paper "This Common Inheritance" made cleaner water a clear goal. These goals include the establishment of an urban wastewater directive and the possible use of incentive charging for water polluting discharges and fines.

The National Rivers Authority fined Shell 1.5 million for polluting the Mersey River. Former water authorities are among those who are also being fined and investigated. This coincides with EU laws that say "the polluter should pay".
An economic measure of the amount of pollution is that in 1992 UK industrial firms spent 677 million for equipment to control water pollution. The short term projection for water pollution control equipment is calculated to grow 10 percent per year in real terms. And remember most of that is for pollution that the companies themselves want to be rid of. For example, breweries need to get rid of high levels of nitrogen. Imagine if laws tighten up.

Quality is not just important for drinking water. It is also important for wildlife. Lakes and reservoirs are highly valued as sources of freshwater for potable supply, irrigation, industry, and recreation.

In order to sustain and improve water quality and the aquatic environment, the UK government aims are to:

  • Manage the discharge of waste water

  • Control pollution.

  • Ensure adequate water resources of sufficient quality are available for abstraction for treatment as drinking water.

  • Facilitate the recreational use of water where appropriate.

  • Deal with acidification of freshwater.

Check out UK Indicators of Sustainable Development for Freshwater from:
GlobalOver 70% of the earth's surface is covered by water. 97% of this is seawater, only 3% freshwater and only 1% is available for use.

Agriculture uses about 70% of freshwater, while industry uses about 20%. The World Health Organisation estimates over 60% of the rural population of the developing world lack access to reasonably safe supplies of water. 75% of people in developing countries lack adequate sanitary facilities.
According to the UN, one-third of the world's population lives in countries facing moderate to severe shortages of usable water by 2025

The average American individual uses 100 - 175 gallons of water at home each day whereas the average African family uses about 5 gallons a day.

Most human waste is just dumped in the nearest water. Human waste has become one of the most dangerous environmental pollutants. Water bourne disease accounts for 80% of all sickness in the world and claims about 10 million lives each year.

In 1981 the United Nations launched the International Dr
inking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. The aim was to give everybody safe water and adequate sanitation by 1990. Though this target was not reached, about 1,300 million more people in developing countries were provided with safe drinking water during the 1980s.

Around 550 million people already suffer chronic water shortage. Three billion are expected to live in countries without enough water by the year 2025.

Check out more water facts from Water Partners International at http://www.water.org/why/fact_sheets.htm

© ep@w Publishing Company Ltd. 2000
2002 Edition