Climate change set to worsen water pollution across the world

UK river and beach pollution levels have continued to deteriorate, with sewage discharges from leaks and overflow pipes in the south of England more than doubling in the last year.

Data collected from nearly 25,000 individual sites in more than 45 countries was published by the Global Water Intelligence and WaterForum consulting firms on Monday, highlighting the impact of climate change on fresh water resources.

Fresh water pollution levels have declined slightly in Europe, but have shot up by 40 per cent in Asia and in the Americas, likely due to drought. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and a consortium of local, regional and national agencies published earlier this year said climate change is likely to add billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions to global waterways by 2050.

“Although global water pollution levels are down by an average of 1 per cent globally over the past two decades, we continue to experience nearly 1 million excess deaths a year due to exposure to water-borne viruses, bacteria and parasites,” Alison Donnelly, managing director of Global Water Intelligence, said.

Wetland ecosystems are increasingly being damaged by pollution and reduced water levels, she added.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said the proportion of water in rivers and lakes that meets European drinking water standards has remained steady at 82 per cent in the last year. However, it had a “major regulatory concern” over the quality of sewage and stormwater drainage in the southeast of England.

Swimmers in the UK, most notably in the southern parts of Wales and northern England, have been particularly exposed to pollutants in recent years, according to the government-backed study by the Hydrographic Office, the UK’s weather agency. Discharges of waste water from around 14,000 UK river and tidal tidal lakes in 2015 accounted for 6.3 per cent of the EU’s annual water pollution.

Miss Donnelly warned that extensive droughts will become more common over the next 30 years, resulting in increased levels of greenhouse gases in fresh water. “As a result, we will also see even more intense heatwaves, extreme rain and flooding, and a very damaging increase in diseases transmitted by pathogens.

“There is much that can be done to reduce the risk of this, especially to communities and animals downstream,” she said.

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