The Worshipful Company of Water Conservators – one of the 31 ‘modern’ Livery Companies formed in the City of London – has responded to the call for evidence on the proposal to designate Wolvercote Mill Stream as a Bathing Water. Within it they focus on the wider challenge of the delivery of safe inland bathing water and speak of a ‘time for an evolution in approaches’. Some extracts from the document:

We recognise that in the past swimming and similar activities in rivers have not been encouraged. This was because of pollution, water quality, and safety risks (drowning, Weil’s disease, etc.). There were also potential conflicts with other river users such as anglers and boat users. Water quality has been impacted, by sewage effluents, and the need to sustain sewer overflows in times of storm or emergency (which can affect river water quality for much longer than the event itself), but also by fertiliser, slurry and pesticide run-offs, livestock farming practices (especially larger stock rearing and poultry units), highway runoff, local authority drainage, and wildlife, particularly birds.

Social attitudes towards swimming in rivers have changed, as exemplified by the report of the Environment Audit Committee ‘Water Quality in Rivers‘, January 2022, which identified the dangers posed to swimmers and other river users from bacteria from sewage pollution. The cost and resource implications for any site designation have to be taken into account, including the capital and operating costs and balanced with the benefits. Any actions to improve bathing waters will also need to be reconciled against other priorities and actions to improve water quality. The source of funding of any improvements has also to be considered.

Time for an evolution in approaches

We submit that the time has come to take a step forward and recognise formally that bathing is one of the potential uses of rivers, beyond the ad hoc designations under the transposed Bathing Water Regulations, but the concerns expressed in the past by all parties still exist and must be addressed as part of the designation processes. The use of rivers for bathing must be integrated into a new approach to river catchment and basin planning. It will require a national consensus as to where the use of rivers for bathing, etc. sits in terms of national water quality priorities and the wider national economic priorities.

The full document can be read here.

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