Geography student helped the Environment Agency assess poor water quality in rivers

The Organisation

The Environment Agency (EA), with area offices based in Preston and Penrith, is an Executive Non-departmental Public Body responsible to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The EA’s principal aims are to protect and improve the environment, and create better places for people and wildlife. The EA plays a central role in delivering the environmental priorities of central government through its functions and roles. They have a collaborative relationship with the University, and have a hot desk in the Lancaster Environment Centre.

www.gov.uk/government/organisations/environment-agency

The Challenge

The River Alt and Darwen, located in the North West of England, are currently failing to meet the ‘good’ status under the EU Water Framework Directory (WFD) regulations. The EA needed to undertake a review of this data with a focus upon the water chemistry of the rivers.

Skills Sought

  • Water chemistry analysis
  • Competency with Microsoft Office products

The Solution

Rob Brooks, a BSc Physical Geography student, was recruited through the LEC 301 Industry Dissertation Project to carry out this research. He focused on reviewing the EA’s chemistry data, cross correlating this with land use information to understand the degree of variability in WFD classification within and between waterbodies. This allowed for critical analysis on the current monitoring system, which proposed how monitoring could perhaps be improved in future so that it is more representative of such variation. Rob also developed a Microsoft PowerPoint tool which allows a viewer to progress through the catchment reviewing relevant chemistry and land use information in a succinct format.  By classifying each year of data for each monitoring point, spatial and temporal change within waterbodies can be more easily and efficiently understood.

Cost

LEC301 Industry Dissertation Projects are free for businesses/organisations, but businesses/organisationsare expected to cover any out of pocket expenses for the student, which is usually around £50-100, in some cases this cost is covered by other university funded projects.

Impact

The report provided the EA with a water quality assessment for the catchment, and also provided an assessment of the EA’s monitoring regime which highlighted potential gaps in information and how this monitoring could be improved. The Microsoft PowerPoint tool is a useful interactive means to make the catchment’s water quality issue more engaging for other members of staff or external partners to fully understand how the water quality is altering throughout the catchment. This is something that the EA is now looking to produce for other catchments.

Benefits to the organisation

  • Delivered an assessment on the water quality of the two catchments
  • Provided  a unique interactive review tool for presentation purposes
  • The EA are now looking at reproducing the interactive review tool for other catchments

Benefits to society

  • Created a more engaging way for the EA to present the issue of water quality data
  • The assessment could lead to more effective water quality management strategies in the future

Organisation Feedback

"Rob tackled the project with great enthusiasm and really wanted to not only scrutinise the data to write a good dissertation, but to provide the EA with a useful product at the end of the project. He really drilled down into what it was we really needed. He had a very professional attitude and produced a fantastic piece of work." Ellyse Maddocks, Analysis & Reporting Team Leader, Environment Agency.

Student Feedback

"I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Environment Agency on my dissertation and I would like to thank all those involved in giving me such a fantastic opportunity and assisting me with its delivery."

"I have gained extremely valuable insight into how we manage our water resources and the current challenges that the Environment Agency is facing in meeting the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.  This has helped me in my modules on water resources management and fuelled my ambition to work in this area after I graduate."

"I have learned many new skills and gained confidence in communicating with those who work with water quality on a day-to-day basis.  It has been a challenging experience too, with a number of difficulties relating to data availability and coming up with a project/product that would meet the EA's and the academic aims.  I worked hard to produce a product and report that I hope will be of use or provide the platform for developing similar tools/catchment management strategies in future.  I look forward to working with the Environment Agency and other similar organisations/companies again," Rob Brooks, BSc Physical Geography.

Future Plans   

The Environment Agency is working with the Lancaster Environment Centre to strengthen current relationships and encourage collaboration and engagement in the future to deliver greater environmental outcomes through joint research and innovation.