Nutrient levels in watercourses

Herefordshire's rivers are currently struggling with high levels of nutrients entering the watercourses and affecting water quality. These include the Rivers Wye, Frome, Lugg and Clun. The main nutrient of concern is phosphate, however the River Clun, similar to The Solent, is also suffering from high levels of nitrates.

Natural England has the responsibility for ensuring the ecology of our watercourses remains in good health and to do this it sets limitations for the level of nutrients in each individual watercourse. Unfortunately, the River Clun and the River Lugg are currently exceeding these conservation targets and the Wye is now close to unfavourable status.

Why high nutrient levels are a problem

High levels of nutrients alter the delicate eco-balance of the watercourse, causing accelerated growth in certain aquatic plants, resulting in algal blooms. These blooms lie on the surface of the water, blocking out light and taking oxygen out of the water thereby creating an environment in which other species struggle to survive. This is known as eutrophication and in extreme cases can result in dead zones where fish, crayfish and other species cannot survive.

Nutrients are not only an issue in our county, as rivers span across administrative boundaries. It is recognised by all parties that to address the problems around nutrients, a catchment wide approach is required. We are working in partnership with all stakeholders, including Natural England and the Environment Agency, the Water Authority DCWW, neighbouring local authorities, environmental groups and professional bodies, to improve water quality and address the associated difficulties.

What we are doing to help reduce nutrient levels

We have been working on a variety of projects to both improve water quality and enable economic growth. These include development of the Interim Phosphate Delivery Plan which includes a phosphate calculator enabling developers to calculate the amount of nutrients their proposed development will add to the watercourse.

We are also pioneering the construction of integrated wetlands, which will act as a natural solution to taking nutrients out of the effluent from treatment works and provide mitigation for new development. We are supporting the Nutrient Management Board in bringing forward a new action plan to provide a catchment wide strategy to address pollution. The council has also approved a new Cabinet Commission to undertake a more strategic and systems led review of river quality to progress the restoration of the Wye and Lugg.