Water/Wastewater

  • What Caused the Great Ouse 'Bubble Bath'?

What Caused the Great Ouse 'Bubble Bath'?

Mar 16 2019 Read 967 Times

The Great Ouse river in Brackley, Northamptonshire, is still recovering from a serious environmental incident which occurred last summer. On the 29th June, an unknown substance leaked into the river and caused it to foam excessively, earning the incident the moniker the Great Ouse “bubble bath”.

Despite its light-hearted title, the spillage had grave consequences for local flora and fauna, with more than 2,000 fish killed at the time. Efforts to rejuvenate the biodiversity of the waterway are ongoing and were stepped up last month when the local authorities released 8,000 chub into the river in a bid to inject some life back into it.

An environmental disaster

According to the UN, 323 million people are at risk from river pollution all over the globe. Of course, a high percentage of that tally is found in impoverished and developing countries where chronic contamination of rivers and waterways is a serious issue, but one-off incidents like the one which occurred last year in Northamptonshire also highlight how disaster can strike anywhere.

The exact cause of the contamination remains unknown, but it’s believed that a fire at an industrial unit in Brackley on June 26th led to unnamed chemicals - possibly including a detergent - leaching into the nearby Great Ouse river. The spillage prompted mass frothing of the current, causing foam to rise as much as five feet in certain points and affecting over 15 miles of the waterway from Brackley to Thornton.

More than 2,000 fish were believed to have been killed by the incident, while invertebrates also had their habitat heavily impacted. As such, councillor for Buckingham Robin Stuchbury believes it could have long-lasting consequences: “The river was pristine clean - one incidence of pollution may have set us back 20 years,” he said. “In this day and age we shouldn't be using the river as a sewer.”

A difficult clean-up operation

It’s challenging enough to determine the best way to clean up flooded lakes and reservoirs at the best of times, but the nature of the contaminants involved at the Great Ouse made this one nigh-on impossible. The Environment Agency (EA) has indicated that nothing could be done to prevent the foam from multiplying or to remove it from the river, and that only time and water flow would dilute it naturally.

However, last month the EA took the step of introducing 8,000 chub into its waters to try and rejuvenate life in the Great Ouse. They were released near Buckingham and the EA has taken every precaution to remove migratory barriers that may have been in place, with further plans to repopulate stocks of dace and roach to continue over the coming years.

“Ideally we would want to improve the speed of the recovery and capacity of the river to carry aquatic life,” said a spokesperson for the EA. “The river's ecology will recolonise naturally but depending on species and other factors, this could take months to decades.”

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