Entry for Water Quality / United Kingdom

This is a discussion about the submission for Water Quality / United Kingdom.

Hi, I have an update and correction to the comment I made on question B6 in my submission on water quality in Britain.

This week the Environment Agency updated its Water Quality Archive to include 2016 data. (The answer to B6 is still ‘No’ however, as the data is not updated weekly.)

– Owen

This has now been fixed; I’ve made a new submission with the updated information. Thanks to Mor for help.

I would like to clarify what is meant by ‘water source’? Does this mean a) water out of rivers, reservoirs etc or b) what comes out of taps which is the case with about 98% of water in the UK.

Bit vague in the description, which may explain why few countries have done well on this entry. My understanding is the entry refers specifically to sources of drinking water; either natural sources or at filtration level. There was a discussion in 2015 about making that clearer:



Yes it would be helpful to be entirely clear what is meant as water source is quite vague and not very transparent. This makes it is a bit difficult for the Environment Agency for example to know what they are being marked against and be aware of potential areas for improvement.


Hi all,

thank you for your patience. Assessing water quality has indeed been challenging this year. You can find our rationale in this review diary for water quality. The relevant information about how we define water sources can be found at the bottom of the document.

I generally encourage you to read our review diaries for any questions. You might find some of your answers there too. They are accessible here.

Please do not hesitate to get back if anything is unclear.

Maybe it makes sense to write our rationale down here, so people do not have to look for it on our diary. The following quote is from @nisha’s reviewer diary elaborating on our rationale to assess water quality:

"Water quality data is a complex issue and can be organized in many ways. I usually will identify drinking water quality data as the priority for the assessment. But because drinking water is a local responsibility it will not always be available as a dataset in a central ministry. This is the case for Belgium which is so decentralized that there is no country-wide dataset available. However, France is a good example of how even though water is managed locally, all the data gets reported to a central place. They have a portal where you can find weekly water quality for your town.

In order to understand this you have look at the regulation. Most of the time drinking water quality is sent in an aggregated form to a central office, usually in the Ministry of Public Health or in an Environmental protection agency. This means there should be data there, [but often there is no access to raw data but only to aggregated reports without parameters like in the case of the UK]. These are usually reports not datasets.

In this case and for countries where most of the population doesn’t get piped drinking supply there will not be any data in the central health ministry. So it is then essential to look at the Environmental water quality data. The Ministry of the Environment will usually collect data on water resources (lakes, rivers, and groundwater). Though this will not only be for drinking water they will have data on water quality. For most countries this is an essential dataset because not every country has 80% or more of the population getting their drinking water from their house tap, also countries like Switzerland and Denmark do still get a majority of their water from natural sources with a minimal amount of treatment.

If the environmental water quality dataset has all the parameters then [we count the data as compliant]. If it doesn’t and there is no drinking water quality data then we do not consider the data for assessment. This is the case for the UK for instance, as they are missing 2 parameters in their environmental dataset."

To answer your questions, Nick and Owen, we have two possible entry points to assess this dataset. Key is, that we want to assess water pollutants that are of general interest to be published. What are your thoughts on this?

Danny, thanks for your comments.

The review for this entry, attributed to Nisha Thompson, includes the following:

“The original submission was rejected because not all the parameters were available Total Dissolved Solids and Fecal Coliform were not being collected or presented.”

I think that’s incorrect. As noted in my original submission, the Environment Agency’s Water Quality Archive does include data for Total Dissolved Solids and Fecal Coliform as well as the other three parameters (Arsenic, Fluoride levels, and Nitrates).

I did identify other issues; the EA data is not updated very often and the same data for Scotland and Wales is not easily available though there are still reports from the drinking water inspectorates.

It seems harsh to score GB will no points for this entry. The data as described is openly licenced, publicly available, and available free of charge.

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I see, this is an entirely different question then, and good that you brought it up. I will get in touch with @nisha who is the best person to answer this question. Are you saying that the EA readily provides data for England? Would be great to know which accessibility issues you were facing for Wales and Scotland.

That also helps to make a decision whether we take the reports as an assessment point, or possibly disaggregated data for Wales and Scotland.

Yes, EA provides data for England at the Water Quality Archive link in my previous comment above. Can I suggest you take a look at my original submission? It covers the relevant resources. EA only covers England. There are no equivalent open data sources for Wales and Scotland; however that doesn’t mean the information isn’t collected of course, and there are drinking water inspectorate reports for all three parts of the Britain.

Yes, we will take a look into the submission, just forwarded it to Nisha


This year the survey was stricter. If there is one missing parameter the entire submission was rejected. So it is important to have all the parameters or it will be 0%. The original submission when I checked the data those two parameters were missing. However I tried to check the 2015 and 2014 archives to make sure I didn’t miss it and those files seem to be corrupted. They don’t open properly.

With that said. The water quality archive for 2016 you linked to does have all the parameters and can be accepted. We will adjust with the new link and change the submission.

Also because water data is complex we couldn’t specify drinking water or environmental quality. Most of the world does not have large scale water treatment which means most people are getting water from a source directly in the environment. To say drinking water or environmental water would cause a bias and make it more difficult to understand if water quality data is available in general for an entire country.By listing parameters we can compare available data more fairly across all types of contexts. This makes it a bit more complicated for countries like the UK who have both countrywide treated piped drinking water and environmental water monitoring, but for other contexts that isn’t the case they might have one or the other.

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Thank you this is very helpful background and the Environment Agency and colleagues would be very grateful if the mark for water quality for 2016 is tweaked.

I do appreciate the international context but all a reader sees is a listing showing that the UK gets 0% across the board for water quality. A casual reader will not understand the context or take the time to understand. As a result they will be left with the impression that there is not data openly available about water quality in the UK which is clearly not the case. That does not help anyone and seems to disregard the work and potentially demotivate all the teams involved in publishing water quality data.

An approach where one or two parameters are not available leads to a zero mark across the board is not going to motivate anyone to want to improve if the amount of work needing to be done looks overwhelming. On the other hand addressing one or two weak criteria which leads to an incremental improvement in the main indicator can seem a lot more achievable.

More generally looking at the process from another perspective it can be viewed as having a negative approach because we are not being given anything back which says if you do x your mark should improve. We can only infer what this might be which could be easy to misunderstand.

Making a positive statement of what needs to be done gives more of a clear audit trail as the data provider being ‘audited’ would have something clearer to review and either confirm or deny if that is the correct state of affairs. It also gives them a clear improvement path if they want to follow it. In an ideal world a data producer needs a link that gives them a page they can show to their decision makers and say - ‘this is how we stand at the moment - these are the gaps - do you want to do something about them?’

Hopefully this does not sound to negative - we do appreciate the chance to give feedback and discuss these topics.

Hi Nisha - does what you said above mean that the UK mark is going to be adjusted? And if so will that be done before GODI is finalised on 15/6?


Thank you all for following this up in such detail and making the final adjustment. Much appreciated. Nick