UK river water quality framework indicators released for 2004

The river water quality indicator is one of the 20 UK Framework Indicators of the UK Framework for Sustainable Development. Comprising indicators of good biological and chemical quality, it has replaced the water quality headline indicator of the previous sustainable development strategy, which showed rivers of good or fair quality. The data was released by the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs...

LONDON, Aug. 15, 2005 (GNN) -- The river water quality indicator is one of the 20 UK Framework Indicators of the UK Framework for Sustainable Development published in March 2005. It comprises indicators of good biological and chemical quality. It has replaced the water quality headline indicator of the previous sustainable development strategy, which showed rivers of good or fair quality (see Section C). Data for river water quality was released by the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, according to a report posted to the Government News Network that follows.

Section A: Biological river quality

In England:
• 70% of river length was of good biological quality in 2004 compared with 60% in 1990.

In Wales:
• 79% of river length was of good biological quality in 2004, the same as in 1990.

In Northern Ireland:
• In 2004, 51% of monitored river length was of good biological quality, compared with 61% in 2000.
• The length of rivers monitored increased greatly between 1995 and 2000, but there was a fall in river length of good quality over this period in those rivers that were monitored in both years.

In Scotland:
• Comparisons between Scotland and the rest of the UK should be treated with caution as the data are on a different basis (see Notes to Editors).
• 87% of monitored river lengths were of good quality in 2004, the same as in 2000, using a combined classification which includes, chemical, biological, nutrient and aesthetic elements.
• Changes in river length allocations and the extent of monitoring between 1990 and 2004 mean that it's difficult to draw conclusions about longer term Scottish trends.

In the UK, it's estimated that about 75% of rivers were of good biological quality in 2004. This estimate is approximate because the classification scheme in Scotland differs from that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. it's not possible to show reliable trends for the UK because of changes in definitions and the length of river monitored.

[NOTE: SEE TABLE A.]

Section B: Chemical river quality

In England:
• 62% were of good quality in 2004, compared with 43% in 1990.

In Wales:
• 94% were of good chemical quality in 2004, compared with 86% in 1990.

In Northern Ireland:
• 58% were of good quality in 2004 compared with 44% in 1991.

In Scotland
• Comparisons between Scotland and the rest of the UK should be treated with caution as the data are on a different basis (see Notes to Editors).
• 87% were of good quality in 2004, using the same combined classification based on chemical, biological, nutrient and aesthetic elements reported for the biological indicator.
• Changes in river length allocations and the extent of monitoring between 1990 and 2004 mean that it's difficult to draw conclusions about longer term Scottish trends.

In the UK, it's estimated that about 73% of rivers in 2003 were of good chemical quality. This estimate is approximate because the classification scheme in Scotland differs from that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There has been relatively little overall change in the proportion of rivers of good quality in the UK since 2000, but there has been an improvement since 1990. This conclusion is based on a comparison of the trends for individual countries - an exact percentage change cannot be given because of changes in monitoring methods and monitored river networks through the period.

[NOTE: SEE TABLE B.]

Section C: About the indicator

During the last year the 1999 UK Sustainable Development Strategy and its supporting indicators were reviewed, and in March 2005 a new UK Framework and UK Strategy for sustainable development were published, together with new supporting indicators.

The new river water quality indicator updated here is one of 20 Framework Indicators supporting the UK Framework for Sustainable Development. it's similar to the river water quality headline indicator of the previous Strategy, which it replaces. The main differences are as follows. The indicator now focuses on 'good' quality rather than 'good and fair' quality in recognition of the improvements that have been made in river quality and those which will continue to be required in future as the UK implements the Water Framework Directive (WFD) - it's thus more challenging than before. Data on rivers of fair quality continue to be available through the Defra e-Digest website given at Editor's Note 3. The biology indicator is now placed first because this is probably more closely aligned with the ecological objectives which are being introduced with the WFD than the chemical measure, important though this is. Finally changes have been made to the presentation of Scottish results to reflect developments in the Scottish monitoring system and improve consistency with the presentation of results by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

New or changed monitoring schemes will be needed to assess water quality for the WFD, and the UK environmental agencies are working to develop these, with the aim of having them in place by the end of 2006. The presentation of indicators of water quality will be reviewed in the light of new monitoring plans as they are developed. In the mean time it's anticipated that there will be at least two further updates of this indicator based on the present monitoring systems.

NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. River water quality is one of 20 UK Framework Indicators outlined in One Future - different paths: The UK's shared framework for sustainable development (March 7 2005) This framework is shared by the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A further 48 indicators support the UK Government sustainable development strategy Securing the Future.

2. All 68 indicators were published in a pocket-sized booklet Sustainable development indicators in your pocket 2005, available free of charge from Defra Publications, Admail 6000, London, SW1A 2XX, Tel: 08459 556000, Fax: 020 8957 5012, Email: defra@iforcegroup.com. Quote publication reference PB11008. A large print version is also available, quote PB11008A.

3. More detailed results and descriptions of the current monitoring methods and river networks are available as follows:
-- Scottish Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.sepa.org.uk/data/classification/index.htm.
-- Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service
http://www.ehsni.gov.uk/environment/waterManage/quality/rivers/river_monitor.shtml
-- Environment Agency for England and Wales
http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/yourenv/eff/water/213902/river_qual/.
-- Defra e-Digest of Environmental Statistics (includes England and Wales results summarised at local authority and English Government Office level)
http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/statistics/index.htm

4. Chemical data from rolling three-year sampling windows are presented to reduce the bias which might be caused by unusual weather conditions in any one year. In Scotland, since 1996, an overall classification has been used combining chemical, biological, nutrient and aesthetic quality. The Scottish classification system and criteria for determining which river lengths should be monitored are different from the other countries. Comparisons between Scotland and other countries should therefore be treated with caution.

5. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, three determinands are used for chemical quality classification: biochemical oxygen demand, dissolved oxygen and ammonia. Biological testing provides a fuller picture of the health of rivers and canals. Biological grading is based on monitoring tiny animals (i.e. macro-invertebrates) living in or on the river bed. Species groups recorded at a site are compared with those which would be expected to be present in the absence of pollution, allowing for the different environmental characteristics in different parts of the country.

6. In Scotland, iron and pH are also included in chemical monitoring in addition to the other three determinands. Biological (ecological) grading is similar to that used in the other countries. The final allocation of the quality class assigned to a river stretch is based on the lowest class determined from chemical, biological, aesthetic and toxicity assessments available for the associated monitoring point.

7. For this indicator 'Good' in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is taken as corresponding to GQA classes A and B. For Scotland, 'Good' is taken as corresponding to Scottish Classes A1and A2 plus unclassified river stretches. Unclassified river stretches are mostly located in rural upland catchments.

8. Today the Environment Agency for England and Wales also released GQA results for nutrients, together with more detailed chemical and biological results for England and Wales, including figures for river catchment regions and for individual river stretches. These results are published on its web site as given above.

National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the National Statistics Code of Practice. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure they meet customer needs.

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