The Environment Agency assess river quality using a range of monitoring networks and different aspects of water quality such as biology and chemical parameters including nutrients. However, the way that water quality is monitored has changed significantly. The Environment Agency is now using Water Framework Directive Reporting.
For the last twenty years, the Environment Agency have been using a general quality assessment (GQA) scheme to assess river water quality in terms of chemistry, biology and nutrients. GQA has helped drive environmental improvements by dealing with many of the major point sources of pollutants, such as discharges from sewage treatment works or other industry. GQA will continue to be used by the Government as a national headline indicator until 2010 and will overlap with Water Framework Directive reporting. The Environment Agency website has more information on how river water quality is measured.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the most substantial piece of EC water legislation to date and is designed to improve and integrate the way water bodies are managed throughout Europe. It came into force on 22 December 2000, and was put into UK law (transposed) in 2003. It applies to all surface freshwater bodies (including lakes, streams and rivers), groundwaters, groundwater dependant ecosystems, estuaries and coastal waters out to one mile from low-water. WFD monitoring is risk-based, focussed where there is likely to be a problem, and classification is based on a far wider range of assessments than GQA. WFD is based on water bodies, not just river stretches and uses a principle of where the poorest individual result drives the overall classification. These differences to the way we measure water quality mean that WFD results will appear poorer than GQA results as it is a different assessment using different parameters and standards. It is the same improving water environment, just a different way of measuring it. WFD will give us a better understanding of the whole water environment, this will help us direct action where it is most needed. More information about the Water Framework Directive is available on the Environment Agency website.
The South West is one of the wettest regions, with the combined influences of the hydrological cycle and human activity contributing to the diverse character of the water environment. However, some areas in the region currently face a lack of water available for new abstractions. Unsustainable abstractions and low river flows could be exacerbated by future pressures of increased demand for water due to projected population growth.
The Government has set legal standards for drinking water in the Water Quality Regulations (based on World Health Organisation guidelines). The UK also has additional standards to safeguard the already high quality of water in England and Wales. These standards cover bacteria, chemicals such as nitrates and pesticides, metals such as lead as well as look and taste. In the South West, drinking water is supplied by Bournemouth & West Hampshire Water, Bristol Water, South West Water, Wessex Water and some parts by Thames Water and Severn Trent Water.