UK water quality 10









UK water quality









Why water quality has deteriorated


According to Boyd, (2015) water quality is the physical, biological, radiological and chemical components of water. Water quality can also be defined as a measure of the condition of water of one or more biotic species for use by human beings, animals, aquatic organisms or any other purposes. Lastly, water quality can also be defined as how suitable water can be used for different purposes.

Determination of water quality

The quality of water that is on earth is a function of (affected by) either natural influences or human activities. Water quality is determined by determining the weathering of bedrock minerals in the scenario where there is no human interference, (Chapman 2016). It is an atmospheric process of deposition of dust and, salt by the wind, and evapotranspiration, leaching of natural organic materials and the nutrients runoff in soil. Runoff which is caused by hydrological factors and a biological process in the aquatic environment can lead to changes in the physical and chemical constituents of water, (Ahuja 2013).

Water quality is determined by comparing the chemical and physical characteristics of a water sample according to the existing standards (guidelines). Regarding determining the quality of water for drinking, the standards are set so as to ensure that the drinking water is safe and clean for human consumption, (De Zuane, 1997). Attainment of these standards is through checking of the toxic levels so as to learn whether the water is fit for drinking by humans or even animals (which includes aquatic animals.)


Water quality indicators.

According to regional aquatics monitoring program, water quality is defined as the concentration physical and chemical components. Water quality indicators include: metals, conductivity, nutrients, dissolved oxygen, industrial chemicals (dioxins and PCBs), temperature, hydrocarbons and lastly, the conventional variables- (dissolved wastes, suspended sentiments, pH levels)

Has water quality deteriorated or improved?

In the recent years, water levels across the world have been declining, Ahuja (2013). Reasons attributed to the deterioration of water quality levels are: a fast growing human population, increased agricultural activities, expanding industrialization, irrigation, and the ever changing weather and climatic conditions, (Terrell & Perfetti, 1992). These reasons are such a threat to the hydrological cycle leading to increased pollution which in return adds up to the low-quality levels of water.

According to Boyd, (2000), at the moment, the largest water quality problem is eutrophication, which is caused by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous which damage the water uses. Many nutrient sources consist of indoor pollution, agricultural runoff, industrial waste release, and atmospheric components of fossil fuels and other fires. According to World Health Organization, (1998), because of the complex dynamics, water retention/ holding capacity and the role as integrating sink of pollutants in the large water bodies like lakes and reservoirs.

Nitrogen concentrations that are above five milligrams per one liter of water show that the water is polluted. The pollution is either caused by runoff from fertilizer, and human or animal wastes. Also, water quality concerns are a result of pharmaceutical and personal care products, painkillers, antibiotics, and other medications on the aquatic environment. Although with all these, their long-term effects are still unknown to humans.

Because of pollution, water quality has deteriorated. The causal factors include industrial effluents, human and animal wastes, fertilizer runoffs and when the water is held in a place for a very long period. The quality of that water can be felt if the water is for drinking or be noticed by the change in the color of water (if it is not clear). Salinity can be considered in the water in the arid and semi-arid areas, and it can also be felt in the world’s coastal areas. These are natural examples of water whose quality has deteriorated because of the salinity levels. They also represent the different natural variations in the quality of water across different regions of the globe.

Causes of water deterioration

Pharino, (2007), Human activities can influence the water quality levels. Their influence is what determines how water is being used depending on how the water has been polluted. Human activities in any way, result in pollution in many instances. The activities include improper waste disposal which includes poor sanitation such as latrines and poor sewerage and drainage systems, (Chapman, 1996). These make the water have an indifferent concentration of organic and inorganic components.

Deterioration of water quality, although much attributed to human activities, it can also be attributed to natural processes. Natural occurrences like hurricanes, landslides, and rainfall result in erosion which ends up in lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. The components that are washed/ eroded into the water bodies may be harmful making water not fit for domestic and or industrial use, and even for drinking purposes. Characteristics of water which is unfit include salinity in coastal, arid and semi-arid areas, and salty waters in some geographical regions. Also, in some areas the water contains some minerals constituents and toxins like fluoride, selenium, and arsenic which make water unfit for use in those regions. The water that contains those minerals and toxins is deemed unfit for drinking, washing clothes, other sanitary purposes and lastly, for use in industrial areas.

In the United Kingdom, fresh water quality is affected by nitrogen levels resulting from agricultural use. Trying to curb the problem from the agricultural perspective is by lowering nitrogen levels which will in turn greatly affect food security and supply. Clean drinking water and food supply are taken lightly as what happens on a daily basis, not knowing that fresh water existence is decreasing with the continuous increase in the nitrates concentration increasing in fresh waters. Pollution is an effect of the externalities of economic activities, Howden, Tim, Worrall, et al. (2013). With an ever increasing human and livestock population, the problem seems to be growing and always consistent. In trying to solve this problem, there is the criminal and common law in place to help in curbing pollution. Water Framework Directive and EU’s Nitrates Directive are trying to prevent pollution from the source, which is a preventive measure in handling pollution. There have been guidelines on how agricultural activities should be carried out in the UK for the past four decades, checks made on river flows and water quality by checking water quality levels. The checks have helped in maintaining a certain level of fresh water quality so as to maintain the UK fresh water and drinking water guidelines. Stringent controls in the agricultural sector are used as the drivers to achieving quality fresh water.

The processes affecting water quality

Hydrological: dilution, evaporation, suspension and settling, percolation and leaching. Secondly, biological: decomposition of organic matter, primary production, bioaccumulation and microbial die-off and growth. Thirdly, chemical: acid-base reaction, redox reactions, dissolution of particles, ionic exchange, precipitation of minerals, photodegradation. Lastly, physical type: heating and cooling, diffusion, adsorption and desorption, and gas exchange in the atmosphere.

Water deterioration in the world point of view

Human activities are the primary source of pollutants that get into the water and cause the deterioration of water, Ahuja, (2013). Some materials are dissolved in the rain into the water thus polluting the water when disposed of. Some of the materials that cause water deterioration and their sources include pathogens, salinization, eutrophication, decomposing organic matter, suspended solids, nitrogen runoff, heavy metals among many other sources. The water deterioration levels are different according to the pollutants, Boyd, (2015). Deterioration differs in various parts of the world according to the pollutant quantities.

Pollution at specific places can be described at the point sources. Regarding how the water for quality has deteriorated because of various pollutants can be defined in at the points of origin. As such pollutants resulting from human activities are: industrial waste-water outlets, quarrying activities, animal feedlots and sewage treatment works, (Ahuja, 2013). The effects experienced on the points where the wastes are disposed to rely on population size, activities being carried out, and lastly, the capacity of the nearest water bodies to dilute the pollutants (discharge).

Other pollutants and sources include point sources, industrial effluents, atmospheric transport, urban sewage, diffuse sources, agriculture, internal recycling, dredging, urban waste and runoff, and industrial waste disposal.

Improvement of water quality

Agricultural land use is the largest contributor towards the deterioration of water quality in the United Kingdom. Nitrogen and phosphorous nutrients are the ones that lead to eutrophication. Requirements in the European Water Framework Directive focus on identifying the nutrient source and their impacts in river waters, (Jarvie, Paul, Robin, Adam, et. al 2007). Sewage effluents and agricultural land use, the nutrient concentrations and their effects are determined. Eutrophication is also considered in basins where the rivers drain their waters. The phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment concentration levels are determined by measuring them, and necessary action was taken. The actions are taken so as to reduce eutrophication and the decreasing quality of fresh water in those areas.

Increased nitrate levels on surface waters in the water bodies in the United Kingdom cause eutrophication- the continuous growth of algae and other water plants on the water surface. High levels of nitrates in drinking water are associated with methemoglobinemia in bottle-fed infants and stomach cancer in some adults. The EC Directive set a maximum standard of 50mg/l of nitrate in drinking water in EC member states, (Szoege, Bob, and Tony, 1996). The subsequent Nitrates Directive required EC governments to identify, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones where the nitrates from agricultural sources were polluting or could be polluting water. By the end of 1995, the action plans targeted at reducing nitrate levels must be explained and put into effect in vulnerable areas by the end of certain timeframes. It is expected that allocation under the Nitrates Directive will be required across regions of intensive farming in the EC, with particular impacts in the UK.

According to government policy: water quality, (2015), a report on water quality in the United Kingdom for 5years, (2010-2015). From the report, only 27% of water in the United Kingdom rivers, coastal waters, streams, lakes, and groundwater is in good status for use. The improvement of water quality will help in; safeguarding jobs and businesses relying on water, and the natural habitats for wildlife. In doing so, the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom were and are advocating for: better planning- Water Framework Directive is used in the management in the water bodies, household water for use and drinking in the United Kingdom. Proper management of the water catchment areas, minimizing agricultural pollution- usage of fertilizers and manure be done properly in farming areas to reduce phosphates, sediments, pesticides and nitrates from reaching the waters. Controlling urban pollution- a majority of urban wastes are from transport, construction, leakages in drainage systems, runoffs and discharges which guidelines are set to manage. Minimizing chemical pollution. The environmental quality standard directive gave a list of the chemicals that are the real threat, the levels they should be minimized. Proper management of sludge and septic tanks, and water.

According to United Nations international decade for action between 200-2015, a majority of the water bodies in the world- lakes, rivers, reservoirs are polluted by nutrient runoff. Water quality, therefore, gives a lot of governments and relevant stakeholders a headache in environmental and policy changes. Although the quality of water is deteriorating, there are efforts that can be put in place to improve the quality. In trying to solve the problem, it is good to get back to the cause of the problem. For example, the sources where the pollution starts e.g. the agricultural farms, industries, etc. however there is little effort being put to address the depreciating water quality issues.

In the United States of America, the agricultural cause of water deterioration is the larger problem in farming areas. In the Mississippi River basin, which accounts for almost 41 percent of the continent whose water is polluted by animal manure and fertilizers, (Perez, 2014). The Mississippi River basin drains its waters into the Gulf of Mexico which is deficient of oxygen making the fisheries and aquatic lives to die. In trying to solve this problem, the agricultural department in the United States started a Mississippi River basin watershed project in the year 2009.

Eutrophication occurs when a water body gets the excessive deposition of some minerals like nitrogen and phosphorous, (Perez, 2014). The eutrophication process makes the water lose its oxygen because nitrogen and phosphorous facilitate the growth of algae which consume all the oxygen from the waters. Since they deplete oxygen or remains little that it might not even support the aquatic life. Because of that reason, it makes the area a dead zone. Research indicates that more than 5000 coastal areas suffer from the problem stated above, Terrell & Perfetti (1992). The nutrient pollution in those areas is attributed to manure and fertilizers, septic tanks in households, and municipal sewerage treatments.


From the above study, we can say that the water levels are deteriorating at a higher rate than how it improves. This is because of pollution and increased human activities that I the result of the deterioration of water quality. But, the water quality can be improved when the right policies are put in place and implemented correctly to the latter. Each and every person should be responsible and take responsibility to preserve the water, water bodies and how its quality is influenced by the actions that we take.



BOYD, C. E. (2015). Water quality: an introduction.

AHUJA, S. (2013). Monitoring water quality: pollution assessment, analysis, and remediation. Amsterdam, Elsevier.

Terrell, C. R., & Perfetti, P. (1992). Water quality indicators guide: surface waters. [Washington, D.C.], U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service.

De Zuane, J. (1997). Handbook of drinking water quality.

Chapman, D. V. (1996). Water quality assessments: a guide to the use of biota, sediments, and water in environmental monitoring. New York.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION. (1998). Guidelines for drinking water quality. Geneva, World Health Organization.

BOYD, C. E. (2000). Water quality: an introduction. Boston, MA, Kluwer Academic.

PHARINO, C. (2007). Sustainable water quality management policy: the role of trading: The U.S. experience. Dordrecht, the Netherlands, Springer.

Perez M. 2014, World Resource Institute: A new strategy to improve water quality- one targeted watershed at a time.–one-targeted-watershed-time

UN International Decade for Action ‘WATERFOR LIFE’ 2005-2015: Water quality. Updated on 2014/10/23. Retrieved on 2016/11/25. Internet resource.

Regional monitoring aquatics program. Water and quality.

GOV. UK. (2015). 2010 to2015 government policy: water quality.

Howden, N. J. K., Burt P. T., Worrall F., Mathias A. S., & Michael J. (2013). Farming for Water Quality: Balancing Food Security and Nitrate Pollution in UK River Basins.

Jarvie P. H., Paul J. A., Robin H., Linda A., Sarah H., Margaret N., Adam B & Heather W. D. (2007). Influence of rural land uses on streamwater nutrients and their ecological significance.

Szoege H. M., Bob C., & Tony E. (1996). Policy Cost-effectiveness for Non-Point Agricultural Groundwater Pollution in the UK. Journal of environmental planning and management, 39(2), 205-222, 1996.

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