All rivers in England have failed to meet quality tests for pollution amid concerns over the scale of sewage discharge and agricultural chemicals entering the water system.
Data published on Thursday reveals just 14% of English rivers are of "good" ecological standard. There has been no improvements in river quality since 2016 when the last data was published, despite government promises that by 2027, 75% of English rivers would be rated good.
The figures, from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs as part of the EU water framework directive, show for the first time that no river has achieved good chemical status, compared with 97% judged good in 2016, suggesting pollution from sewage discharge, chemicals and agriculture are having a huge impact on river quality.
Environment Agency chief, Emma Howard Boyd, said: "Water quality has plateaued since 2016, which isn't good enough. There have been improvements over the last 25 years, for example waste water treatment works put 60% less phosphate and 70% less ammonia into the water environment than they did in 1995, but the general upward trend has not continued."
Despite the government's legally binding target, Thursday's data suggest rivers are as in as poor a state as six years ago.
Howard Boyd said: "Today just 14% of our rivers are [rated good]. To get where we want to be everyone needs to improve how they use water now and that means water companies, farmers and the public."
Guardian data revealed that raw sewage was discharged from storm overflows into English rivers for more than 1.5m hours by water companies in 2019. And the government and the EA has set up a storm overflow task force to try and tackle the growing problem of sewage pollution.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow said the water quality data published on Thursday showed urgent action was needed to reduce sewage discharge and address pollution from agriculture and chemicals. She admitted the data, published under the EU water framework directive which is a key driver for improving river quality, was "not comfortable reading."
"We need to go further and faster on reducing the environmental impact from storm overflows and other sources of pollution including chemicals and agriculture," said Pow.
"More needs to be done urgently, and I met with water companies earlier this month to set out the high expectations this government has for our water environment, including in particular chalk streams.
"These results show we have a long way to go, with a new way of testing for chemicals more accurately reflecting what is in our water environment. While it's not comfortable reading, this will allow us to plan more effectively to tackle the scourge of pollution.
"We are absolutely committed to achieving the water quality ambitions in our 25-year environment plan to improve at least three-quarters of our waters to be as close to their natural state as soon as possible."
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