The UK heatwave has returned and extreme weather patterns are predicted to stay as we experience the impacts of climate change. The UK’s freshwater resources are in crisis, so what can be done to improve water quality, ensure availability and protect future supplies?
Professor Steven Loiselle, senior research manager, Earthwatch Europe, spoke to Sky News at the Evenlode River in Oxfordshire, about the threats to our freshwater. He detailed how issues including pollution, invasive species, water abstraction, activities that change habitats like dredging and climate change have resulted in many of our freshwater ecosystems being in a poor state. This compromises their ability to provide those services on which we depend, one of which is water supply.
The availability and quality of the water available will depend on our ability to manage this resource sustainably and our preparation for extreme events that are likely to occur more often.
What is the future for our water?
Extreme weather patterns interrupt freshwater ecosystem’s ability to carry out essential services, including supplying us with water. This leads to rising costs for taking water and compounding shortage issues during hot weather.
Over-drying of the ground during hot weather events, and poor urban planning leaves localities at much higher risk of flooding - a key issue in the Thames area.
Misconnected plumbing and drainage pollute rivers and beaches throughout the UK, as well as cleaning products containing phosphates. These have negative effects on fresh water quality and ecosystems upsetting the balance of the water systems and leading to harmful algal blooms which can choke ecosystems.
The power of partnerships
We believe that understanding these challenges and fostering partnerships and data sharing between leading water organisations is key to tackling the issues that freshwater faces. Partnerships are showing where the pollution comes from and how this changes over time, which helps water companies and the Environment Agency address these problems.
Our partnerships in the Thames catchment (UK) exemplify why all sectors have a part to play in tackling key environmental challenges. Since 2015 Earthwatch and Wild Oxfordshire have worked together to engage people and businesses in ‘Water Blitzes’ - a 24 hour effort to collect as many water quality samples as possible from across the Thames catchment. Blitz events are held throughout the year and create an invaluable snapshot of the health of our rivers that will help to direct future conservation efforts and understand the issues facing the Thames catchment.
With the support of Thames Water funding the Water Blitzes have continued twice a year, helping Earthwatch and Wild Oxfordshire to raise awareness amongst hundreds of volunteers, local businesses, schools and other conservation organisations.
With further support from Thames Water, Earthwatch’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) professionals led on the development of the FreshWater Links platform (GIS is a mapping technology that allows the user to create and interact with a variety of maps and data sources). Freshwater Links is an online platform designed to support policy and ecosystem management bringing together the wealth of water data across the Thames catchment from local conservation efforts into a single platform.
This means that water industry leaders, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s), volunteer groups and businesses are better equipped to identify and act on problem locations and pollution hotspots, which is essential to maintaining and improving the rivers and streams that are central to their business.
We partner with the water industry and volunteer groups, helping monitor water quality and improve water management around the globe. Earthwatch has programmes supporting scientists and communities in improving management of freshwater resources in 36 countries across the globe. See more commentary on this issue from Earthwatch, Wild Oxfordshire and Thames Water on Sky news.
Image: Emma Allsebrook