Water wonderland

Rachel Rees knows a good drop of water when she sees it.

As a senior environment planning officer for the Environment Agency her specialist subject is water quality.

Rachel did a degree in Countryside Management at Liverpool John Moores University followed by an MSc in Coastal Zone Management at Bournemouth University.

Her working life started with the Countryside Council for Wales based in Swansea as a Conservation Officer, looking after sites protected for nature conservation.

She moved to Suffolk for love and landed a job with the Environment Agency.

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Her first job with the EA was working on the Review of Consents in the Water Quality Regulatory Team. This involved assessing the impacts of discharge consents on sites designated under European conservation legislation.

Following reorganisation, Rachel moved to the Regional Water Quality Planning team where her work primarily focussed on tidal waters, in particular bathing water and shellfish water quality.

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Rachel jumped at the opportunity to work back in the area when a job came up in the new Area Environment Planning team, covering Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

The Environment Planning team plays a vital role in providing the information and intelligence needed to inform decisions and actions inside and outside the Environment Agency. The team is made up of water resource, water quality and waste planners.

“We achieve the most we can for the environment by using the best available information to prioritise our own and our partners’ actions to improve the environment for everyone,” said Rachel.

“We work closely with the local planning authorities and the water companies on water cycle studies for individual river catchments and groups of catchments.

“Local planning authorities now have to complete Water Cycle Studies to assess the availability of drinking water for new houses and whether the waste water treatment system and the environment have capacity for increased waste water flows. The studies provide an overview of environmental and infrastructure needs to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the phasing of development.”

Rachel is also the Water Framework Directive co-ordinator for Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. As co-ordinator Rachel has the task of embedding this legislation into all areas of EA business.

“Many river stretches are failing to meet the tough new standards set under this new legislation. We need to investigate to better understand the reasons for these failures and to identify what action needs to be taken. These actions will then either need to be translated into our team work plans or we may need to work with other organisations to deliver improvements.”

She said, “I really enjoy the job, it’s very varied and I get to meet lots of interesting people and I enjoy the challenge too.”

So what is the Water Framework Directive (WFD)? “It’s European legislation that is being implemented across the whole of the European Community to protect and improve the water environment. It changes the way that we measure the quality of our rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters, placing greater emphasis on biological quality.”

So at its heart the WFD protects and improves the natural health of the water environment. Rachel says, “It’s based on four key aspects of water, the biology – fish, plants and invertebrates, chemical quality, the physical structure of the river and water quantity. It applies to rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwaters contained in the soil and rock.”

The UK has been divided into distinct areas; the Anglian River Basin District is unique because the landscape ranges from gentle chalk and limestone ridges to extensive lowlands of the Fens and East Anglian coastal estuaries and marshes.

Water is essential to the maintenance of the rivers, lakes, estuaries, coasts and groundwater that underpins these landscapes and their wildlife. And it is also vital to the livelihoods of those who live and work here.

In the past there has been considerable progress in protecting and resolving many of the problems for the water environment. However, a range of challenges remain, which will need to be addressed, they include:

• pollution from sewage treatment works;

• the physical modification of water bodies;

• diffuse pollution from agricultural activities;

• water abstraction;

• diffuse pollution from urban sources.

It’s important for everyone to play their part now and in the future. River basin management is an opportunity for this generation – for people and organisations to work together to improve the quality of every aspect of the water environment – to create an environment we are all proud of and can enjoy.

What are the main problems with our rivers? Problems vary from diffuse pollution from agriculture and urban areas, point source pollution from industry, physical modification of rivers by constricting the channel with flood defences, over abstraction of water. This can have an impact on the health of the river and the wildlife it can support.

Farming can generate a range of pollutants including nitrates and phosphates which can encourage excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae in a process called eutrophication.

Agriculture is also one of our largest users of water and irrigation is needed in the summer at a time of low rainfall which can exacerbate already low rivers. Careful management of water consumption will be necessary to meet the WFD aims.

“Our priority for 2010 is to better understand why some of our worst waters are failing, this year we have several investigations planned to help us do this. There are also many projects ongoing, some working in partnership, that will contribute towards meeting the objectives of the Directive. Such as installing fish passes on some of our structures, the Wensum Restoration Strategy, Catchment Sensitive Farming and waste water treatment work improvements to be delivered by the water company. Improving all our waters to ‘good’ by 2015 is going to be a challenge, but we are determined to ‘make 2010 count’!”

For more information visit the Environment Agency website and search for Water Framework Directive.


Customer services line: 08708 506 506

Incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60

Floodline: 0845 988 1188

E-mail: enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk

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