Evenlode Catchment Partnership – Water Quality and Advocacy

June - 2022

Eoghan Concannon

The Evenlode Catchment Partnership’s (ECP) mission is to restore the Evenlode river basin to ‘good ecological status’. The ECP, hosted by Wild Oxfordshire, aims to protect and enhance the invaluable services we derive from the Evenlode river catchment, for the benefit of wildlife and people. The resources we get from local waterbodies have become extremely fragmented and dysfunctional over recent decades due to a variety of pressures. To achieve this vision, the objective of the ECP project is to achieve an improvement of services in the areas of; water quality; biodiversity, habitat and landscape; natural flood management; and recreation & engagement for local schools, communities and visitors.

This project has committed to a partnership-based approach and will contribute to the improvement of local biodiversity, climate adaptation and sustainable development goals. The ECP emerged in 2014 as none of the waterbodies of the Evenlode were meeting a healthy status, which has remained the same way ever since. Sewage Treatment Works (STWs), land use practices such as Agriculture and channel alterations (hydromorphological issues) are amongst the main reasons for this decline.

Kayakers battling through scum (Ann Miller)

Currently, none of the 18 waterbodies in the Evenlode Catchment meet good ecological or chemical status (ECP 2021). This pervasive, insidious decline in water health has mainly been a result of poor Sewage Treatment Works (STWs) which are unable to treat sewage at a rate sufficient for the true population of the area. “Between September 2019 and June 2020, 9 sewage treatment works spilled untreated sewage into the Evenlode for a total of 8,344 hours or 348 days – nearly a whole year of untreated sewage entering the river!” (ECP 2021). As well as this, todays standard STWs have a serious lack of Phosphorous stripping capabilities. This means that even treated effluent still carries hazardous amounts of this harmful pollutant. The ECP strongly advocates that these dysfunctional STWs are upgraded to facilitate this very necessary Phosphorous stripping function. The EA estimates that, on average, 65% of phosphorus entering the Evenlode originates from STWs, with this figure reaching 80% along some stretches of the river (ECP 2021). When present at high concentrations, this pollutant causes algal blooms which leads to reduced oxygen levels in the water. The sediment build-up can also cause smothering of riverbeds, again impacting key habitats, preventing growth and reproduction for native water plants, but fish and macroinvertebrates in particular. This effect, called ‘eutrophication’, is very ecologically damaging. Such sediments can also cause direct poisoning of aquatic ecology and deterioration in water quality. These substances have considerable impacts on our drinking water supplies, some of which cannot readily be treated, leading to additional unnecessary costs.

Our rivers are under at a critical tipping point, facing stress from all directions. Other pressures come from weather extremes (floods and drought), non-native species such as the signal crayfish as well as the long-lasting ecological impact of historic dredging programmes, which are proven to have significant adverse effects on the aquatic environment (IWT 2021).

The mission of the ECP will be delivered through a Smarter Water Catchment action plan to enable positive change in our rivers, and how we manage them going forward. This plan can be found here which clearly sets out multiple objectives required by the ECP vision, in a ten-year plan.

Water quality news and events

EarthWatch water quality pack

One of the key aims of the ECP is to help preserve and enhance water quality by working in partnership with local people, community groups, NGOs, and the water industry. Other partners include governmental agencies, the private sector and local MPs.

Citizen scientists for the ECP have already monitored 1300 events since 2015, via riverfly and chemical sampling (ECP 2021). This is very helpful as it allows us to understand what is impacting rivers and how we can come up with solutions to address them (IEPA 2019). The EA’s monitoring obligations for the Evenlode have been greatly reduced for 2022, hence Citizen Scientists will be able to fill in the gaps and provide wholistic river data. A live stream of water quality data will be available on the ECP website in late summer/ autumn. Water quality and chemical concentrations within, is being recorded daily from Sonde equipment. This has been installed in several different waterbodies throughout the catchment. This information will allow the interested public to become more aware of river issues. EarthWatch will provide monthly analysis to the ECP, an NGO partner of the ECP project who collect and collate water quality information around the Evenlode.

Take Part

Riverfly training workshop

This July, the ECP through its partner EarthWatch will host a water blitz event on the Evenlode catchment. The aim of this event is a community led monitoring initiative, to measure any excessive chemical concentrations (Phosphorous and nitrogen) in the waters of the Evenlode. This will be carried out by local community members who have an interest in how water is protected. The Evenlode WaterBlitz event will be happening from the 1st to the 4th of July, where we ask people to help collect water quality measurements across the Evenlode and report the results. Please visit https://www.freshwaterwatch.org/pages/events if you would like to participate in this innovative river quality monitoring event. Feel free to share this link with your social networks but there is a limited amount of kits available.

The ECP will be hosting a Riverfly survey training workshop which will be carried out on the Evenlode Catchment in September 2022. This will be facilitated by Tony Bostock of the Cotswold Rivers Trust, a specialist in the field of river restoration and fisheries management. This will further enable and empower Citizen Scientists of the ECP to carry out robust river surveys. This will help the ECP to understand where there are issues in the river and lead us towards implementing “the right measure in the right place”.

Reporting Pollution – How you can help

Declines in water quality generally go unseen by the public. Rivers have been extremely modified and altered for human advances over decades and centuries. Rivers have been utilised for their instrumental value rather than their intrinsic value which has left river health out of public opinion and concern. Even pollution from sewage inputs can go unnoticed. However, it can be identified by the smell of a waterbody and its visual look. If you have noticed a horrible, unusual stench by your local waterbody and/ or it has looked dark and grey in colour, it is highly indicative that sewage and other sediments are entering the river. You can use the Environment Agency Hotline to report it –0800 807 060.

Sewage fungus is a mass of filamentous bacteria (primarily of the species Sphaerotilus) that grows in response to organic nutrients in the water. Sewage fungus builds up on almost any surface where there is aflow of water and the necessary nutrients such as organic wastes from feed and faeces (SPE 2022).If there is no local advocation for tighter controls around dysfunctional STWs rivers will continue to degrade, become null of life and turn into ”oxtail soup”, a term quoted from a local Citizen Scientist. This will have far reaching negative consequences for local people through the loss of ecosystem services, so watch out for it!

Sewage fungus - Vaughn Lewis

If you would like to take action to reverse these disgusting trends there is some excellent local work in Oxford happening that you can take part in. Windrush against Sewage Pollution (WASP) explain their work in the following; “We’re a charitable trust, based in Oxfordshire. We’re working to end the sewage pollution of the River Windrush. Our aim is to make rivers safe for all. If you want to help and see the end of unnecessary sewage spills please visit https://www.windrushwasp.org/ and take action locally.

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