Now in its sixth year, the Thames Valley WaterBlitz provides an overview of water quality across the region. Freshwater resources, such as rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds provide numerous important benefits to local communities. However, these water bodies face increasing threats from pollution caused by development, fertilisers applied to fields, humans and industrial waste.
By surveying smaller water bodies, such as small ponds or tributaries, pollution hotspots can be identified and action can be taken where it is needed most. These smaller areas are often not included in the routine monitoring done by water companies or the Environment Agency, and are likely to have been deprioritised during lockdown.
Volunteers who register to take part will receive a free water testing kit, with instructions on how to measure nutrient concentrations and submit their data to the Earthwatch database. An excess of nutrients, such as nitrates and phosphates, can indicate potential sources of pollution.
Dr Isabel Bishop, Freshwater Research Lead at Earthwatch explains: "Over the last few months, we have seen a real growth in people's appreciation of the environment. People have been spending more time outdoors and it seems that more people than ever before have been enjoying our natural waterways. At the same time, we have seen news reports of sewage pollution entering our rivers and damaging wildlife. Lockdown hampered water monitoring efforts and vital data on how the environment is responding to the pressures of pollution and climate change is missing. As lockdown eases, we must resume monitoring. This is why we need you!"
To date, volunteers have made of 3,400 measurements across the Thames Valley. By comparing these measurements to one another, Earthwatch scientists are able to pinpoint areas where nutrient concentrations are higher than expected. On example is the River Evenlode, where volunteers are now using their data to locate the precise source of the excess nutrients entering the river.
This WaterBlitz is funded by Earthwatch’s corporate partner Thames Water as part of its ongoing commitment to local water quality through the Community Investment Fund, and is supported by Wild Oxfordshire and the Evenlode Catchment Partnership, among others.
Claudia Innes, Community Projects Executive at Thames Water, said of the WaterBlitz: “We are delighted to have partnered up with Earthwatch for this project. At the heart of our business is a commitment to reduce pollution and make more of a difference to the environment and communities within which we all live and work. More than ever before, individuals, families and communities have had the opportunity to experience and appreciate green spaces like our beautiful waterways. An interest is all you need to spark a sense of ownership for these special places. By becoming a WaterBlitz volunteer, you will be making a real contribution to a body of data that exists to monitor and protect the health of our rivers and streams and the wildlife that depends of them.”
Register at earthwatch.org.uk/waterblitz before 21 September for your free test kit and instructions.