The Waterpocalypse: Urbanisation

Emily Cooper


This World Water Week, we're looking at four of the greatest threats to water across the globe: the Four Horsemen of the Waterpocalypse. Today, we're talking about urbanisation. We haven’t treated our rivers kindly over the years. We have straightened, dammed, deepened, reinforced, diverted, embanked and culverted them for our convenience. These changes have significantly impacted the characteristics of our rivers, altering water flow, sediment movement, fish migration, erosion, and so much more. Urbanisation, industrialisation and agriculture have left a terrible scar on the face of our rivers. It isn’t possible to restore all of our rivers to a pristine state—but we can help to ‘rewild’ them, allowing them to function in the way that nature intended. This will require a multi-sector, catchment-based approach, engaging industries, communities and other organisations in the care of their rivers. That means you can play a key role in the fight to prevent the Waterpocalypse.

The truth about urbanisation:

Urbanisation and industrialisation are necessary components of growth - but the way we currently develop our cities and industries is unsustainable.
  • Only 1% of the rivers in England, Scotland and Wales are free of artificial barriers
  • Soil is being lost at 10X the rate that it’s being created, and these losses are resulting in agricultural pollution of our rivers.
  • Globally, wetland extent is estimated to have declined by more than 50% since 1900. Wetlands are often cleared to make way for new developments. Wetlands act as biodiversity hotspots and store huge amounts of water, so their loss is very worrying.
  • Since 1970, there has been a 70% increase in numbers of invasive species across 21 countries. Species like giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam can significantly impact waterways. This increase is likely to be associated with increased trade and tourism—both consequences of industrialisation and urbanisation
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production
Watch this short animation on how we can deliver more sustainable solutions for both businesses and the environment:

What are Rivers Trusts doing?

Drone Image of Broomfield Park Wetland Photo credit: Taking the Pixels Our Trusts addressed 414 pollution incidents during 2018, some of which helped to mitigate water quality problems arising from urbanisation. Take a look at how Ribble Rivers Trust are tackling water quality in their catchment. The One Show - Ribble Rivers Trust Credit: Ribble Rivers Trust

What can you do?

Urbanisation and industrialisation are huge problems which aren’t easy to tackle as an individual. However, you can help to tackle their impacts. One of the best ways to do this is by volunteering with an organisation like ours. This allows you to join a team of like-minded people, working together to achieve a core goal: protecting and improving our rivers.
  • Volunteer with your local Rivers Trust
  • Donate to help us help rivers recover from the effects of urbanisation
  • Fundraise to support our work
This blog post has been supported by the WaterCo-Governance (WaterCoG) project under the Interreg North Sea Region VB Programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund. WaterCoG
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