Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has today (17 December) published an evidence package outlining phosphate levels in the river Wye Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Phosphorus pollution is known to cause the process of eutrophication in rivers, a highly problematic issue that causes excessive growth of algae, which smothers and blocks out light for other aquatic plants and animals.
The data shows that, because of stretching new targets, over 60% of the River Wye and its catchments fail against the new targets set.
Conservation standards were tightened as a means of safeguarding the river environment and countering the impacts of climate change. The targets for the River Wye SAC are aimed at achieving up to a four-fold reduction in some areas and tributaries.
The evidence package about phosphate levels in the Wye comes following concerns about algal blooms in the River Wye earlier this year.
Gavin Bown, Head of Mid Wales Operations for NRW said:
“NRW knows how passionate people are about safeguarding the health of the River Wye. We share that passion and strength of feeling and we’re committed to working with stakeholders along the course of the river to do all we can to improve the river’s health.
“There were concerns that phosphate levels were associated with poultry units, but we have not found a direct connection between the two elements.
“The reasons for failure on the river Wye and its tributaries are likely to be from a diverse range of sources, including mains sewerage and septic tanks, misconnections and agricultural practices.
“The new targets set for phosphorus levels in the Wye are challenging – but rightly so.
“By sharing this information, we can all better understand how nutrient levels affect our rivers and we can work together with businesses, farmers and residents to protect the river and the natural resources it provides for local people.”
NRW will work with planning authorities in the Wye catchment - Powys, Brecon Beacons Natural Park and Monmouthshire to help them understand what the findings of the investigation could mean for their planning processes.
The ultimate aim will be to ensure that any new development does not adversely affect phosphate levels in rivers. In practice this will mean that each and every project, plan or permit will have to demonstrate that they have a neutral, or better impact on reducing the phosphate levels in the Wye and its tributaries.
Phosphate is naturally occurring, and is released slowly, at low levels, from natural sources, from natural bankside erosion for example. However, phosphates can also enter rivers from land management practices, sewerage and foul water that can contains detergents and food wastes.
Ruth Jenkins, NRW’s Head of Natural Resource Management Policy said:
“We all have a part to play to make sure that Wales’ rivers are healthy for future generations and we want to work with others to find innovative solutions.
“Each river and section of rivers may need different approaches and we will work with people locally to create local solutions.
“But the solution is not just about how we design developments and use land alongside our rivers. Simple changes we can each make in our everyday lives can help make a positive contribution to the reduction of phosphate levels and other forms of pollution affecting our rivers.”