HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 c21WS
Mr. Rosindell

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will take steps to reduce nitrate concentrations in English rivers. [132114]

Mr. Morley

The Government has taken, and is taking, a range of action to address nitrate pollution of English rivers.

The EC's Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive contains provisions designed to reduce the adverse impact of sewage discharges on the water environment. The Directive, and Government policy building on the Directive's requirements, establishes that all discharges from sewage treatment plants serving populations greater than 2,000 have secondary treatment by the end of 2005.

Secondary treatment reduces the total nitrogen present in sewage. The amount of this reduction is dependant upon the type of secondary treatment process applied, but reduction of total nitrogen achieved through secondary treatment is of the order of 20 per cent. on average.

The Directive also contains provisions that require further treatment of nitrates from sewage discharges to reduce the impact on freshwaters intended for abstraction for use as drinking water. These provisions require that where nitrate concentration levels in these waters exceed or could exceed 50mg/1, if no protective action is taken, then nitrate reduction is to be achieved through further treatment processes.

Between February 1997 and June 2002 eight water bodies in need of protection from excessive nitrates levels were identified as Sensitive Areas (Nitrate) in England. Relevant sewage works have been, or are being, built to provide the treatment needed to reduce nitrate levels in their discharges.

Action has also been taken to reduce nitrates in sewage discharges to estuaries in a number of Sensitive Areas (Eutrophic) where it is considered that these discharges contribute, or are likely to contribute, to the eutrophication of coastal waters.

Additionally the EU Nitrates Directive, an environmental measure designed to reduce current and prevent future water pollution by nitrate from agricultural sources, requires all known areas of land draining into nitrate-polluted waters to be designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. The Nitrates Directive requires the identification of polluted waters using the following criteria: (a) surface and groundwaters which contain or could contain, if preventative action is not taken, nitrate concentrations greater than 50 mg/1;(b) surface waters which are eutrophic or could become eutrophic if preventative action is not taken. Around 55 per cent. of England has been designated as NVZs on the basis that it drains into these waters.