Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Toxic Watercourse.

Recently I listened to a broadcast from the BBC which highlighted a series of issues believed to be having a detrimental effect on the wildlife in and around our inland waterways. Has humans we have taken to science for producing tens of thousands of different chemicals. Many of which are used for creating everyday household products. Our knowledge has also added into the mix those chemicals used for creating drugs for fighting diseases. Then there are the agricultural pesticides and fertilisers. All of which are added together in our watercourses. Add to this the happy abandon that people have for the environment by dumping almost anything and everything into the the local canal.

To a point we understand some of the effects that chemicals can have through pharmaceutical research. What we don't know or understand is what happens when hundreds and possibly thousands of chemicals are mixed together at random in our rivers and canals. The issue is made even more complex when the contaminant chemicals are mixed in different concentrations. To all intents and purposes its a potentially toxic chemical cocktail.

Water treatment plants are usually co-located with our rivers. Contaminated water in all its forms is sent into our sewage farms where solids are first removed. The liquids are then passed into water treatment plants for further cleansing. The water leaving the water treatment plants still carries a reduced amount of the chemical cocktail that the thousands of everyday items create. What the latest research is starting to throw up is that even in diluted form the cocktail is having an effect on the food chain.

River water tends to flow downhill, at a varying speed depending on the rainfall. So river flows can change significantly. The chemicals used to create popular drugs such as antibiotic's and other drugs used as anti-depressants. Which can have a detrimental effect on the creatures living in and around the waterways. Creating problems such as breeding defects and in some cases even the ability to breed at all. A great deal of ongoing research is beginning to highlight some of the links and causes that are pointing to some of the changes in behaviour that are taking place.

Often the creatures living in our waterways also provide food sources for other wildlife such as birds. Like DDT had a significant detrimental effect upon some species of birds. So some of the chemical compounds are being found in the food web which may concentrate in those predators at the top of the food chain. The whole cause and effect of such chemical contamination is creating some concern amongst environmentalists. I can't help but wonder if there is good reason for the trust to be employing people in this capacity.

The level of contaminants in river water can vary significantly due to the dilution caused by clean rainwater entering the catchment. Large water flow can also help to remove containments by scouring the river channels. There are natural watercourses such as rivers. There are also heavily engineered watercourses, which tend to be straightened or a mixture of both. The sediment build up will vary significantly in each type. However, where sections of canal get their water feed from rivers. In particular those that have treatment plants upstream. The flow of water is restricted and contamination can build up in the sediment layers as well as concentrate in solution.

I was struck by one throw away comment in particular. The conversation revolved around the responsibility of government and its agencies to tackle these issues. One commentator said – he was worried that some management for the waterways were in the hands of various charities. It was in his opinions a problem that was outside of the capabilities of charities to manage. Especially where funds would always be at some risk. He said it was essential for the government to take the whole issue of the management of waterways in house and to provide a concerted effort in the cleaning up of the watercourses from streams through to rivers.

However, the more I reflect on the issue, the more I see a possible reason for the government not to transfer other waterways into the stewardship of the trust. I can in fact see reasons why when the economy improves the inland waterways as we know them today, might be taken back in house through necessity.

I am lucky that I have a close friend who has come to visit us here in Spain. Who is a very knowledgeable person on some aspects of the very subject. Whose PhD research was based upon river flows and the effects upon sedimentation. So I was able to ask a few questions about their experience and in some cases gained a better understanding of some of the technical terminology used.

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