Newsletter, October 2022

Action on Pollution and Water Quality

Anyone regularly involved in paddle sports either on rivers, lakes, canals or at coastal locations will be aware of the polluted state of many waterways. Plastic and general detritus are the obvious signs, as evidenced by the volume and variety of objects retrieved from our river clean events organised by Steve Cartney. Paddlers are also aware that on many occasions water quality is compromised by pollution
from sewage, agricultural run-off and some industries. For many years rivers have been used as convenient drains. As a club we are especially concerned with the risks to health posed by raw sewage outflows into the Dee potentially raising the levels of bacteria harmful to human health. The sewerage system in many older parts of towns and villages (pre-1970’s in general) is linked to the rainwater system. When rainfall events occur the combined drains cannot cope and to prevent sewage backing up and flooding streets and homes some is released into our rivers. This is supposed to happen in ‘exceptional circumstances’ according to the Environment Agency, but in Chester a rainfall event of 4-5 mm is often enough to result in combined sewer outflows releasing sewage into the Dee. (4-5 mm may fall as heavy rain, but hardly an exceptional event in North-West England!).

Who Is Responsible?

Discharges into rivers are the responsibility of water companies, in the case of the Dee this is Welsh Water. Their work is monitored by the Environment Agency, an industry regulator, in England and Natural Resources Wales in Wales. When they expect outflows containing sewage will be released they inform Surfers Against Sewage.

Safer Seas and Rivers App

Surfers Against Sewage put all their reports onto an app. It can be downloaded and opened on your phone. Search in your app store for ‘ Safer Seas and Rivers Service’ or click the links below. You can then see where spillages occur and see the history of a location.

What is Deva Canoe Club doing?

Recent publicity prompted reaction in the local press. On behalf of the club I wrote to Louse Gittins(Chair of CWaC), Chris Matheson (MP), Jamie Christon (CEO Chester Zoo) and Katrin Kerr (Chair, Chester BID) expressing our support for their public statements calling for river quality improvements. I also forwarded copies to as many other clubs and groups involved with water sports on the Dee.

As a result I was invited to take part in two online meetings. The first set up by Katrina Kerr was with Steve Wilson who is responsible for drainage and sewage for Welsh Water. He proved to be very open, and conceded that there is much to do and that the Dee should be a priority. The second meeting was for a Water Pollution Task Group set up by our local authority (Cheshire West and Chester). Councillors and council officials wanted to take evidence and hear the opinions of environmental interest groups and river users. I found it reassuring that our elected representatives have major concerns and wish to see action to improve river quality. I have listed the future actions we at Deva would like to see below.

Our Vision and Ideas for making Progress

To achieve a cleaner, healthier environment.
To achieve bathing water status representation has to be made to central government. Currently 2 local authorities, one on the R. Tamar and a council in Oxfordshire are aiming to get waterways designated as bathing waters.
This requires surveys and counts of river users to justify that a designation is desirable. In the meantime we would like to see;

  • Improved data collection and dissemination by Welsh Water. Currently sewage spills are reported, but with no indication of severity, volume etc.
  • Setting of ambitious targets by WW to reduce the number of overspills year on year
  • Infrastructure improvements to achieve these targets
  • Awareness raising in the general population and work with other stakeholders (e.g.
  • land owners and industry) to improve water quality
  • Co-ordinating interest groups to achieve further improvements and a cleaner river, e.g. plastic pollution, removing invasive species etc.
  • Information sharing and co-ordination with organisations like The Welsh Dee Trust, Surfers Against Sewage, British Canoeing, etc to become part of the wider national movement
  • Supporting schemes such as wetland restoration to slow down run-off and infiltration rates, and discouraging laying of impermeable surfaces which increase run-off rates
  • Raising awareness in the general public of the problem