The Stream, July 10, 2024: Voters in U.K General Election Worry about River Health and Sewage Spills

The Thames River, in London. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue.


  • The poor quality of rivers and streams across the United Kingdom was a major concern for voters in last week’s general election, helping the Liberal Democrat party win 72 Parliamentary seats.
  • An Ecuadorian court ruled that ongoing pollution has violated the rights of the Machángara River.
  • A particularly destructive monsoon in Nepal killed dozens of people over the past month in floods, landslides, and lightning strikes.
  • An epidemic of chronic kidney disease, brought on by contaminated drinking water, continues to afflict young men in Sri Lanka.

Prolonged drought has put Sicily’s only natural lake on the brink of drying up.

“The lake is no longer there. The part of the water that was visible has completely disappeared, apart from this puddle.” — Giuseppe Maria Amato, from environmental group Legambiente.

Lake Pergusa, Sicily’s only natural lake, covers 0.7 square miles when healthy and has no rivers flowing in or out of it. But just under 10 inches of rain have fallen on the Italian island over the past year, reducing the lake to a mere puddle. 

The drought, coupled with high temperatures, has prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency. Farmers are being hit especially hard, struggling to grow crops while paying for shipments of water to replenish their shrinking reservoirs, Reuters reports. Some are even considering slaughtering their animals, as there isn’t enough water for livestock breeders to get by.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

The United Kingdom’s general election last week spotlighted several trends, including the unseating of many Conservatives across the country’s south in favor of Liberal Democrats — a phenomenon being attributed to water pollution and sewage spills that occurred while Conservative MPs held power, the Guardian reports

The Liberal Democrat party targeted part of its campaign on the “failing water industry,” winning over voters with their pledge to address pollution. Winning 72 seats last week was the party’s highest since it was founded in 1988.

One particularly polarizing waterway in southern England is the River Lavant, one of about 300 chalk streams in the world and a biodiversity hotspot. Subject to multiple spills — including overflows from a wastewater plant in 2023 that discharged sewage 286 times for 6,542 hours — the river and its connecting waters, brimming with fungus and film, have been deemed “unsafe for public access.” 

Citizen scientists and volunteers who help clean and test these and other waterways have seen a noticeable decline in their health, an increase in community flooding, and continued political inaction, according to the Guardian. Across the country, citizen testing found that 75 percent of Britain’s rivers are in poor health. 

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers

5 to 10

Percent of children, some as young as 10 years old, in Sri Lanka’s farming and fishing communities who are showing early signs of kidney trouble, the New York Times reports. For decades, the mysterious “chronic kidney disease of unknown origin” has been an epidemic among young men, causing kidney damage and failure often decades before the disease usually takes hold. Drinking water contaminated with pesticides is considered a main cause of the illness, along with exposure to extreme heat and dehydration. In other communities, magnesium and calcium carbonate contamination could play a role. They are found in concentrations of up to 700 milligrams per liter, compared to the 40 milligrams per liter found in bottled water.



Number of people in Nepal who have died in floods and landslides since the country’s monsoon season began this June, the New York Times reports. Last week, at least 15 people were killed and 18 others injured as yet another deluge hit the mountainous country, prompting landslides adjacent to its extensive network of rivers. DW reports: “the number of disasters per year is projected to increase globally from 2015 by 40% by 2030, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.”

On the Radar

The Machángara River, whose headwaters reside high in the Andes Mountains, is often the depository for contaminants as it flows through Quito, the capital of Ecuador. An abundance of pollution and lack of waste treatment has made its waters nearly uninhabitable for aquatic life. 

This pollution violates the river’s rights, a court in Ecuador has ruled. The Associated Press reports that the ruling is based on a provision in the country’s Constitution.

Ecuador is one of several countries to recognize the right of the natural environment not to be polluted. The ruling — white currently being appealed by the city government — forces officials to devise a clean-up plan.

More Water News

Hurricane Beryl: A new study of historic weather trends along the Texas coast and tropical Atlantic Ocean suggests that the hurricane’s winds and rains were 10 to 30 percent more intense because of human-caused global warming, Inside Climate News reports.

Spanish Shellfish: Consistently heavy rains in northwestern Spain — a precipitation trend made more intense by climate change — is degrading the health of the region’s shellfish, threatening a harvesting tradition that has been practiced and taught for generations, mainly by women, Mongabay reports.

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