The Evenlode river in Oxfordshire, like many waterways across the UK, has been impacted by sewage and agricultural pollution over decades. Once clear, the waters are now often murky and, in places, unsafe for bathing, resulting in less fish, insects and weed growth. But local communities and associations, farmers and the Environment Agency, together with the water industry are taking action to tackle this. Earthwatch Europe are supporting this effort as part of the Evenlode Catchment Partnership run by Wild Oxfordshire.
The main problem for the Evenlode is elevated phosphorous loads reaching the river and leading to eutrophication (an excess of nutrients resulting in a chain reaction of negative impacts on the river). It has been estimated that two-thirds of the phosphorus entering the river comes from sewage treatment works. Another 28 per cent comes from agriculture and land use, such as livestock waste and phosphate-laden soil that has washed off from farmland. Other sources include road run-off and leaking septic tanks.
There were 96 occasions last year when untreated sewage spilled into the Evenlode as the sewage treatment works at Milton-under-Wychwood ran out of holding capacity, for a duration of 1406 hours.
Earthwatch Europe’s Freshwater Programme Manager, Charlotte Henderson, met with the New Scientist to discuss the Smarter Water Catchment project in the area. She demonstrated one of the latest pieces of technology being used to better monitor and manage water quality to improve river conditions. Automated sondes multi-parameter probes are being used above and below sewage treatment works to continuously measure water quality, including pH levels, Biological Oxygen Demand, dissolved organic matter and turbidity. This will allow for real time monitoring of the river conditions. The technology has been funded under the partnership.
Charlotte Henderson said,
“It’s about making the invisible visible to people. This then gives people the knowledge and the power to protect and enhance our local rivers and waterways, through making more informed decisions.”
You can watch the video here.
The Evenlode ‘Smarter Water Catchment’ project, sponsored by Thames Water, was launched in October 2021 with a focus on improving water quality in the river. According to Thames Water, this project will see them ‘working in partnership with others in the region to make bigger and better improvements than we could make as individual groups and organisations.’
Local volunteers have been monitoring the river since 2017 and are providing key information to help plan river improvements and set priorities for action. These citizen scientists are part of Earthwatch Europe’s FreshWater Watch programme, active throughout the UK and across the globe.
Earthwatch Europe’s work is grounded in science. It is Earthwatch’s mission to monitor the health of our natural resources, and help people take action to have a positive impact.
Read the full New Scientist feature here.