Keeping the River Clyde healthy

20 May 2019

Photograph: Xianzi Chen

What is being done to help keep Glasgow’s main waterway clean from pollution?

The river Clyde is the main river that flows through Glasgow. It is the eighth longest river in the UK and the second longest river in Scotland. The River Clyde has always played an important role in the history of Glasgow –  it’s been said that “Glasgow made the Clyde and the Clyde made Glasgow.” As engineering made the river more accessible, the city’s businesses and industry thrived. Clyde Shipbuilding played a vital role in the early 20th century, especially during the two World Wars. The industry began to decline in the 1960s, and now only a few shipyards remain in Govan, Scotstoun and Greenock.

In the face of historic environmental issues, the Clydeside residents around the river have always tried to work towards keeping it healthy.

However, the amount and type of sedimentary pollution contained in Clyde is closely related to the industrial history of the region. The land is contaminated from the e past industry in Glasgow as rainwater is sometimes infiltrates toxic chemicals such as chromium from the soil into the river. Although pollution from heavy industry and power generation is declining, there is evidence that anthropogenic pollution from new synthetic compounds in electronics and textiles is increasing.

Photograph: Xianzi Chen

Air pollution from nearby factories can also be an issue.  Sau lee Chang, a runner who has been exercising along the River Clyde for many years, said: “The environment in the River Clyde is very good and close to my home, so I am willing to exercise here. But there is a Chivas Regal distillery in the Glasgow Green section of the Clyde River, where the air smells strange.”

Infographic: Xianzi Chen

The water quality of the River Clyde is now improving. There is significant improvement at Cambuslang, Glasgow.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said:“The health of the River Clyde is significantly better than expected due to substantial investment.”At the beginning, the river quality was ranked as “bad”,  which belonged to the worst category, but it has been improved to“moderate” in 2015 and some rivers now are “excellent”.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government’s Water Environment Fund, managed by the State Environmental Protection Administration, helps restore natural habitats by eliminating fish barriers and concrete channels, allowing fish to reach the upper reaches of the Clyde catchment. So the salmon can return to areas that they had been unable to enter for decades.

But the River Clyde remains the main receptor of sewage in Glasgow, and now the  major sources of pollution are from the North Calder Water, and some of the pollution enters the lower reaches of the River Clyde. These pollution are sporadic pollution from sewage, surface water drains and industrial sites. In many cases, such pollution is very difficult to track, especially since most of these pollution are hidden in the culvert which is a water pipe or sewer that crosses under a road or railway.

Most freshwater pollution is caused by the addition of organic matter, which is mainly sewage. From 2010 to 2021, Scottish Water will invest more than £600 million in the area for wastewater treatment plants and systems. Scottish Water has developed drainage schemes for many rivers, and many small, overloaded wastewater treatment plants have been shut down. In most cases, the sewage is pumped to a larger plant where it can be treated more efficiently.

River Kelvin. Photograph: Xianzi Chen

As a tributary of the Clyde River, the River Kelvin and its ecological environment have also received attention. Because the Kelvin Aqueduct carries the River Forth and the Clyde canal, when it is open, the Kelvin Aqueduct will be the largest aqueduct in the UK. And this river is used as an overflow for the canal.

The main water quality problem at the River Kelvin is sewage pollution and general street runoff, but the river is still in good condition at the Balmuildy Bridge section. In 1995, for the first time in more than 100 years, salmon was found at Kelvin.

Now Scottish Water has invested millions of pounds in improving Glasgow’s wastewater system. This project will improve the environment of the Kelvin River. By the time this project is completed, this new infrastructure will help prevent items that are accidentally flushed into the toilet – such as rags, baby wipes, plastic cotton buds. – spilling into the Kelvin River.

Volunteer organizations are also involved in the environmental protection of the Kelvin River with a good working relationship with the Glasgow City Council. “Friends of the River Kelvin is a voluntary group that carries out litter clearance on the River Kelvin.

Lyn Dunachie, a member of Friends of the River Kelvin (FORK), said, “Glasgow City Council has given FORK a lot of support over the years. We rent our base -Ha’penny Bridge House- from them and they provide the black bags, gloves and litter grabbers that we use for clean ups. Our local councillors often attend our meetings and give constructive advice to FORK.”

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