In their regular column, Climate Action Stokesley and Villages look at actions we can all take to help the health of local rivers.

Recent works have brought welcome positive changes to the River Leven. We all want clean water and to enjoy activities such as fishing and wildlife watching and to know our children can play in a clean river. But, although the river may look clean, its waters still hide a big problem, phosphates.

Phosphates drive excess algal growth which in turn can choke waterways and out-compete natural aquatic plants affecting the creatures that should be in the river. In severe cases algal blooms use up the oxygen in the water and suffocate insects and fish.

It is widely understood that phosphate is in fertilisers used by farmers and is found in the run off from fields into our rivers. Government agencies are working with farmers to reduce the loss of fertilisers from their land and the high price of fertilisers now means less are being used.

But phosphates are also present in many of the products we use in our homes, especially dishwasher tablets and laundry liquids, which go down our sinks and ultimately into the river. In 2016 it was reported that nine per cent of phosphates found in the freshwater environment comes from dishwasher tablets alone. Removing phosphates at sewage treatment works is difficult, expensive and requires an energy input which carries with it a carbon footprint, adding to global warming and climate change.

Climate Action Stokesley and Villages

Climate Action Stokesley and Villages

There are plans to upgrade sewage treatment works to be able to reduce phosphates from domestic effluent. The Leven passes through a largely rural environment and not all domestic properties are on the main sewage system. At least 14 per cent of domestic properties around the Leven and Tame have a septic tank and the effluent discharges from them can be very variable depending on their age, management and maintenance. Phosphates from septic tank effluent are not removed.

Everyone agrees that zero phosphates gives cleaner water. Sweden and some US states have banned phosphates in dishwasher tablets and laundry liquids altogether. In the UK and the EU they are regulated but still allowed. Evidence suggests our changing climate adds to the problem with lower summer river flows reducing dilution and high winter rainfall causing more run off.

Stopping phosphate pollution isn’t easy but we can make a difference. Check the ingredients on cleaning products for phosphates or phosphonates. There are many products, easily available, that do not contain phosphates. Ecover tablets and liquids are readily available in supermarkets and "fill your own container" shops such as Tindalls in Stokesley. Bio D, made in Hull, is also available in local eco stores or via the internet. Miniml, Faith in Nature, Ocean Saver, Earth breeze laundry sheets are more examples of what we can use to remove phosphates and help to clean up our river.

Climate Action Stokesley and Villages (CASaV) are members of the River Leven Sub-Catchment Partnership. Come to our next CASaV meeting on Tuesday, May 16, 7.30pm to 9pm in The Globe Community Library, Stokesley to find out more about our work and other activities including plans for Great Big Green Week in June.