The water quality status of England’s three swimming rivers has been rated as “poor”.
The recently released government water quality data has classified all three rivers in England that were designated for swimming as having a “poor” status.
On Friday, the Environment Agency released data revealing that during the 2023 period for swimming, 96% of bathing sites in England met the required standards. Additionally, 90% of these sites were classified as either “good” or “excellent”. This marks a decrease from the previous year’s figures, which showed that 97% of sites met the minimum requirement of “adequate”, while 93% achieved the top ratings of “good” and “excellent”.
The majority of designated areas for swimming are located on the coast. Only three rivers in England have received special designation for swimming: the River Wharfe in Ilkley, Wolvercote Mill Stream in Oxfordshire, and the Deben estuary in Waldringfield. Unfortunately, all three of these sites have been deemed to have poor water quality, indicating that swimming in them could be harmful and may lead to illness. This is due to contamination from sewage and agricultural waste, which can introduce bacteria such as E coli and intestinal enterococci into the water.
A large number of rivers in Europe are classified as swimming locations. Specifically in France, there are over 570 designated areas for river bathing.
According to James Wallace, the head of River Action, there are only three rivers that have been officially designated as suitable for swimming, and they all have received the lowest possible rating. This is a clear indication that the rivers in the UK are in a precarious condition. Currently, a mere 14% of the UK’s rivers are classified as healthy. Even iconic rivers like the River Wye are facing significant pollution and the threat of destruction.
The data is focused solely on the 400 sites designated for swimming during the spring and summer months, from 15 May to 30 September. These are usually the driest times of year, when sewage is least likely to be spilled, as overflows are supposed to happen only during heavy rain when sewers are overwhelmed. However, analysis has found that water companies sometimes dump sewage during dry weather when they are not legally supposed to.
According to a new study from Surfers Against Sewage, the majority of popular swimming spots have high levels of sewage contamination. The Liberal Democrats also reported that human waste has been illegally disposed near some of the UK’s top beaches. Concerns have been raised that this issue may worsen as the government intends to deviate from EU standards for water quality.
The government is not on track to meet its water quality goals, as all water sources in the UK are expected to be rated as at least good by 2027. The Labour party has pledged to address this problem by implementing stricter regulations for water companies. This includes prohibiting bonuses for those who contribute to pollution and holding water executives accountable for any illegal dumping of sewage.
According to Steve Reed, the Secretary for Shadow Environment, the water industry has been severely damaged during the 13 years of Tory government. This has resulted in contaminated sewage polluting our rivers, lakes, and oceans. It is unacceptable that families and children are unable to safely enjoy these bodies of water without the risk of becoming ill. Despite this blatant disregard for public health, consumers are now facing increased water bills while CEOs continue to receive hefty bonuses.
The government has stood by its performance regarding water quality. According to the water minister, Robbie Moore, “Our bathing waters have made significant progress in recent years, and we are wholeheartedly dedicated to further improving the quality of our coastal waters, rivers, and lakes for the betterment of the environment and all those who rely on them.”
Our Water Plan is increasing funding, implementing stricter rules, and enforcing them more strictly in order to improve the quality of our water and enhance our bathing areas. We have also established strict goals for water companies to decrease sewage spills from storm overflows, with a focus on taking immediate action at designated bathing locations to make the most significant impact as soon as possible.