Thanks to the children for showing an interest in the environment and our work as well.
Team Leader - Land & Water Team - East Kent & Stour
Kent & South London Area
- Mark asked: what is the agency doing to reduce river pollution?
A large part of the Environment Agency’s work is focussed at improving water quality in our rivers now and for future generations. One way of doing this is by pollution prevention work with our industries, farmers, home owners, water companies like Thames Water Utilities. Our officers provide good advice and guidance to these organisations and companies to encourage them to act responsibility towards the environment. If we discover that companies or individuals are deliberately or recklessly harming the environment we can take them to court where they are prosecuted under our environmental laws. This will hopefully have the effect of making them and others think twice before polluting the environment again.
- Alin, Ellie and Alfie asked: how can we (in towns and cities) stop river pollution?
In London nearly all the water from our homes, businesses, roads, etc end up in underground pipes called combined sewers. These combined sewers follow the routes of many of the old London Rivers that have been made into tunnels to carry our wastewater. During dry weather conditions these sewers carry sewage through what are called intercepting sewers to be treated at big Wastewater Treatment Works (see picture Crossness WwTW and Old London River etc) . When there is heavy rainfall these combined sewers really struggle to keep the flows within the pipes and they often overflow through combined sewer overflows into the River Thames (see picture CSO London). These overflow help stop the sewers from backing up and flooding our homes, schools, etc.
Many of the problems are caused by too much rain water entering the sewers at one time, causing the pressure to build up and the overflows to run. If we all reduced the amount of rain water entering the sewers, through rain water harvesting, or sustainable urban drainage schemes (SUDS), etc this would greatly help.
The water company are also building what has been called a ‘Super Sewer’ in North London (the Lee Tunnel) to try to store all this sewage underground so spills through CSOs do not need to happen so frequently in the future. A scheme is being considered to link with the Lee Tunnel to provide a huge, underground intercepting sewer that follows the Thames through London. This project is called the Thames Tideway Tunnel. These are really big and very expensive projects.
Also many homes and businesses in our towns and cities place a large amount of fat, oil and grease (FOG) into the sewer through kitchen sinks. This blocks or reduces the ability for sewers to carry the sewage to be treated at wastewater treatment works and can cause pollutions to our rivers. One way we can all help is not to place FOG into the sewers (please see picture Fat Berg in London). Other problems are caused by wet wipes. These are often marketed as ‘flushable’ or ‘biodegradable’ but they are generally not. Many of our sewers flow under gravity, but when the sewage needs to pass over a hill, under a road, etc then the sewage has to be pumped using big, industrial pumps. The wet wipes or rags often form balls, clumps or "ropes" of material that block the pumps and the sewage then pours into the rivers until the pumps are fixed. We can help by not flushing wipes and other materials down the toilet, instead place them in bins. The link below shows how strong wet wipes can become when the are clumped:
- Frank asked: how do you help to train communities to reduce river pollution?
We work closely with communities, charities, schools, councils, etc to provide them with advice and guidance. Our website carries a lot of good information about how we can all prevent pollution. This includes not placing polluting liquids, such as oil, etc in the drains that flow to the rivers, through to how businesses building new houses can do this with the least amount of damage done to local rivers and streams.
- Ayomide asked: how do you normally clear rubbish from rivers?
We have screens called trash or weed screens that are placed in rivers to collect rubbish and washed down vegetation like tree branches. These are cleared by our staff and the rubbish is taken to recycling sites where possible or incinerators. Also a number of voluntary organisations and charities do litter picks and the local council clear litter and flytipping that could find its way into the river.
- Jennifer asked:
- What substances or objects can be found in the river?
- How would river pollution impact on us in the future?
Our staff have found all sorts of different objects in our rivers. From shopping trollies, to cars, also mattresses, doors, chairs, even a caravan. The biggest problem is litter, which is easy to stop if we all used bins provided by the councils or shops, or took the litter home with us. Some litter causes injuries to animals like swans, ducks and otters, with many pollutants like sewage, oil and chemicals causing big fish deaths. Litter and pollution can kill wildlife and stop or limit our enjoyment of rivers.
In terms of pollution impacts in the future, our population is going to get bigger, and we require more water person today than at any other point in our history. In London that usage per person is amongst the highest in the country. We also live in the driest part of the country, and where you have high demand and potential restricted supply there could be issues in the future. We have had droughts in the past and as strange as it may seem with the flooding from the previous winter we good have successive dry summers and winters and this would place great pressure on water supplies. A large percentage of our drinking water in London comes from the rivers. Although the drinking water is very safe to drink, in fact it is amongst the safest in the world, it can be expensive to remove the pollutants once in the water and this could place more pressure on the supply. A good question!
- Ahmed asked: where do rivers end up?
All rivers will flow through an estuary and end up in the sea. Our rivers, seas and rainfall are all part of the water cycle which is really interesting to learn about as everything needs water. Water is one of the most important resources we have and we must look after it for the future.
- Billie asked: how can nature – for example plants and animals - help to improve the purity of rivers?
Plants and animals help maintain what is called a healthy ecosystem. The right amount of plant life, supports and provides a good habitat for insects and other small creatures, these in turn are needed as a food supply for fish and other animals. Everything in balance makes for a healthy river. Nature is very robust, and many of our native plants and animals can tolerate low levels of pollution. We have cleaner rivers and seas now than we have at any time in the last 200 years since the industrial revolution. But we need to do more to make our rivers better for wildlife and our enjoyment. Some plants are helpful, for example reeds are really good at removing certain substances like phosphates and ammonia which can be very damaging if levels build up in watercourses.