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You are here: Home / The European environment – state and outlook 2010 / Country assessments / United Kingdom / Freshwater - State and impacts (United Kingdom)

Freshwater - State and impacts (United Kingdom)

Topics: ,
SOER Common environmental theme from United Kingdom
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Water quality

River water quality has historically been measured using the General Quality Assessment (GQA) classification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, giving long term, separate measures of biological and chemical quality. In Scotland, results were based on the Digitised River Network (DRN), giving one overall measure. Results and further information are published as one of the UK’s 68 indicators of sustainable development, and are presented below.

 

Figure 1: Biological river water quality, United Kingdom, 1990 - 2009

Figure 1: Biological river water quality, United Kingdom, 1990 - 2009

 

Figure 2: Chemical river water quality, United Kingdom, 1990 - 2009

Figure 2: Chemical river water quality, United Kingdom, 1990 - 2009

 

The Water Framework Directive has brought about a new method of assessment which requires the classification of all water bodies as part of the River Basin Management Planning process, and resources have been diverted to this away from the GQA monitoring networks. 

In December 2009, River Basin Management Plans were published for river basin districts in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Classification results for each country are provided below:

 

Percentage of water bodies classified as Good overall status1, 2008


 

England

Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland


Rivers

25

29

56

20


Lakes

35

39

66

27


Estuaries

8

29

85

0


Coasts

35

67

94

40


All surface waters

26

31

64

21


Groundwater

38

69

76

97


All waters

26

32

65

28


Notes:

 

 

 

 


1.  Figures include 'overall potential' where water bodies are artificial or heavily modified. Some water bodies will never achieve good overall status because they have been physically altered for a specific use, such as navigation, recreation, water storage or flood protection. Overall potential is based on the quality that can be achieved given a water bodies changed conditions. Bottom of Form






 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water abstraction and use

 

The UK receives an average of 265 billion cubic metres of precipitation each year, of which around 60 per cent runs off to rivers and groundwater where it is available for public supply or direct abstraction (Figure 3). UK rainfall varies geographically – the Anglian region, for example, receives on average less than half that of either Scotland or Wales.

   

Figure 3: Long term average rainfall (left-hand scale) and runoff (right-hand scale)

Figure 3: Long term average rainfall (left-hand scale) and runoff (right-hand scale)

 

Each year more than 14 billion cubic metres of water are abstracted from UK freshwater sources, of which 12.4 billion are abstracted in England and Wales. About half of all abstraction is taken by the public water supply and the remainder by agriculture (including spray irrigation), fish farming, industry and electricity generation. Approximately one third of the public supply is abstracted for non-household use.

Overall the Water Exploitation Index for the UK is 5 per cent.

 

Flooding

 

In England, around 5.2 million properties, or one in six, are at risk of flooding. Of these, 2.4 million properties are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea and a further 2.8 million properties from surface water.

In Scotland, around 100,000 properties, or one in 25, are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea. There are no reliable figures for the number of properties at risk from surface water.

In Wales around 375,000 properties, around one in six, are at risk to flooding. Of these, 220,000 properties are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea in Wales, with around 97,000 of these properties also susceptible to surface water, and a further 137,000 properties susceptible to surface water flooding alone.

In Northern Ireland approximately 46,000 properties, around one in eighteen, are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea. There are no reliable figures for the number of properties at risk from surface water.

There is also significant risk to national energy, water, communications and transport infrastructure and basic public services such as schools and hospitals (Figures 4 and 5).

 

Figure 4: National transport and utilities infrastructure assets in flood risk areas

Figure 4: National transport and utilities infrastructure assets in flood risk areas

Source: Flooding in England (2009), Environment Agency

 

Figure 5: National transport and utilities infrastructure assets in flood risk areas

Figure 5: National transport and utilities infrastructure assets in flood risk areas

 

Source: Flooding in Wales (2009), Environment Agency

 

Human health can also be extremely affected both in the short term with diseases spread by contaminated floodwater, and in the long term with victims experiencing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Finally biodiversity can be impacted through frequent inundation.

The EU Floods Directive, which has been transposed into national legislation, provides a framework for the assessment and management of flood risk from all sources of flooding and aims to reduce the adverse consequences on human health, the environment, economic activity and cultural heritage.

 

·        In depth analysis of the risks that flooding presents in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

 

·        More information on water in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

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The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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