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Improving our waterways

The Manchester Ship Canal (MSC), opened in 1894, was one of the busiest waterways in Europe.

It was polluted by industrial discharges, sewage overflows, and surface water runoff, including from the River Irwell, which forms the headwaters of the MSC.

Salmon disappeared from the River Irwell in the 1850s and rowing races were abandoned in the 1970s.

Despite the real estate value of the docks being estimated at £550 million, development was prevented by unpleasant odours, bubbling gas and sediment rafts.

Research led by Dr Keith White at The University of Manchester established the cause and extent of water pollution in the upper MSC and Salford Quays.

This led to evidence-based restoration programmes that have rejuvenated the waterway and surrounding areas.

The improvement in water quality was the essential first step in the development of Salford Quays, a development that has seen approximately 2,000 homes being built and the arrival of 900 businesses employing over 35,000 people.

Dr White's research has been translated into practical solutions for the clean-up of contaminated waterways. This quick and effective change has been achieved alongside the spin-out company APEM Ltd (Aquatic Pollution and Environmental Monitoring.)

 APEM, founded at the University in the 1980s, is now one of the largest independent aquatic science consultancies in Europe.

APEM's continuing commercial activities relating to water quality management are underpinned by Dr White's research.

Associated organisations

"Maintaining our links with The University of Manchester has been critical to the success of APEM."

Dr Keith Hendry / Managing Director, APEM

"The work at Manchester has not only contributed to our understanding of the response of freshwater ecosystems to pollution, but also to urban regeneration, leaving a permanent legacy of environmental and economic improvements for future generations."

Dr Keith White / Senior Lecturer, The University of Manchester