HL Deb 15 March 2002 vol 632 cc113-4WA
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How far the Environment Agency is facilitating the conservation of ecosystems by enforcing the law regarding pollution of rivers. [HL3155]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

The Environment Act 1995 requires the Environment Agency to further the conservation of ecosystems as far as is reasonably consistent in carrying out its duties and exercising its powers. The Government's management statement and sustainability guidance to the agency emphasise this requirement.

Results from the Environment Agency's general quality assessment (GQA) scheme for the year 2000 show that 94 per cent of rivers in England and Wales were of good or fair biological quality compared with 87 per cent in 1990. Equivalent figures for chemical quality were 94 per cent and 85 per cent. This substantial improvement is due to a number of factors, including a major clean-up of discharges from sewage treatment works and industry. Under the Water Resources Act 1991 (as amended) tighter limits have been set for consented discharges to controlled waters and there has been tighter enforcement of discharge consents and much more focus on pollution prevention.

Under the GQA scheme the Environment Agency monitors the quality of just over 7,000 sites representing around 40,000km of rivers and canals. Sites are sampled twice a year for biological quality and this provides an indicator of overall "health" of rivers. For chemical quality, which gives an indicator of organic pollution in general, sites are sampled 12 times a year.