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Updated: May 9, 2023

Thriving waterways support flourishing communities, robust businesses and healthy environments. Yet the life of most of our rivers faces an existential crisis!

What are we all going to do about it?

Access to clean water is essential for the health of us all, and our ecosystems. Rivers should be safe for swimming, fishing, playing, providing drinking water and supporting wildlife. But they have been under valued and inadequately protected, so they have been treated as sewers, drains and dumps. The consequences of inadequate waste-water treatment facilities, land and residential drainage, and over extraction have been ignored for political and financial gain. This is causing our rivers to become polluted, flood more frequently or dry up, effects that are exacerbated by climate change.

This is a national and global crisis that increasing numbers of people are becoming aware of and taking action locally to address. Cwm Arian Renewable Energy has been co-ordinating a citizen science project called CLEAN Afon Nyfer, with over 30 volunteers testing nitrate and phosphate levels and mapping land use and invasive non-native species. A report has been produced and the partnership is currently wrapping up the summer sampling program and seeking funding for community based catchment management.. The water framework directive lays out the measures by which to assess rivers, and maps of the monitoring results for Wales are available. Less than 40% of Welsh rivers surveyed met the “good standard” in 2021. There are many causes for this and it is important to understand the local situation in order to target resources to effectively resolve it.

A few general measures that can be applied to make a significant difference are:

Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales, who are responsible for regulating and monitoring the quality of water can be urged to implement legislation and allocate funding to reverse the decline.

Dwr Cymru have committed to provide services that we pay for, we can encourage them to prioritise investment in water treatment facilities and constructing treatment wetlands; to remove more pollutants and manage peak flows without discharging raw sewage into our rivers, as they have successfully done in other areas.

∙ Land management across catchments and especially adjacent to waterways needs to be understood, and reviewed to prevent excess nutrients flowing into the rivers, and to increase the habitat value for wildlife in and along the watercourses. Implementing natural flood management techniques, catchment restoration approaches and regenerative agriculture.

∙ Businesses and households with mis-connections (where waste-water discharges into surface water drains, or rainwater discharges into the sewers) can cause pollution directly or by overloading water treatment facilities. Check connections to drains and implement rainwater soakaway systems or storage for re-use. Septic tanks need to be inspected regularly and upgraded where no-longer working effectively.

∙ Using environmentally friendly cleaning products can reduce water pollution, especially phosphates and microplastics, and improve the environment within your home.

There are national projects that are engaging with this issue such as: Afonydd Cymru, River Action, Surfers Against Sewage and FreshWater Watch. You can check the condition of your local river or a map with records of sewage discharges. Find local projects such as Save The Teifi, The Teifi Restoration Project, other catchments may have their own groups to join. Or seek inspiration from the likes of the Evenlode Catchment Partnership or Windrush Against Sewage Pollution.

Together we can work towards making our local rivers and streams places where people and wildlife can thrive. There is colossal power in a community unified with a collective vision, regenerating the landscape on their doorstep.

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