Give the Thames through Oxford designated bathing water status
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We, the undersigned, would support Designated Bathing Water Status being granted for a stretch of the Thames through Oxford.
Here in Oxford, we love our rivers: Old Father Thames, or the Isis as it’s known around here, the Cherwell, and the numerous streams that encircle and flow through our ancient city.
To a lesser or greater extent, the rivers are part of our daily life. We, and visitors, walk, run and picnic alongside them, punt, paddle and row on them, and swim, play and fish in them. The river is the beating heart of our summer and provides exercise, fresh air, beauty and reflection throughout the whole year. During lockdown, they have often been a great source of solace and freedom.
Healthy rivers provide humans and the wider ecosystem with numerous benefits, including much of the water we drink and wash with, as well as naturally fertilsing the land and preventing flooding by holding more water in the landscape. They are home to thousands of other species, from kingfisher, otter and trout to dragonflies and waterlilies.
Sadly, our local rivers are not in a good state. In the Environment Agency’s most recent assessment by the The Cherwell (from Kidlington to its confluence with the Isis) was rated as “poor” and the Thames (from Eynsham to south of Oxford) was rated only “moderate”.
Sewage pollution is a serious problem in this area. The major reason for the Thames failing to reach healthy status was continuous sewage discharge by the water industry . In 2019, raw, untreated sewage was discharged from four sewage treatment works along the Thames through Oxford for a total of 1982 hours, equivalent to 82 days of discharge, or over 5 hours a day for every day of the year . This state of affairs is because sewage treatment works have often not been upgraded in decades, and overflow whenever there is heavy rainfall.
This is unacceptable. We deserve a healthy, clean river, safe for all to use and enjoy and for other species to live in.
Designated Bathing Water Status would result in the Environment Agency to carrying out weekly water quality testing during the summer bathing season (between 15th May and 30th September) and categorise the water quality from “excellent” to “poor”. The site would be rated both annually and in response to temporary pollution, with the information being made immediately public. The council would be compelled to display this information online and on signs.
Designated Bathing Water Status would:
1. Enable swimmers and other river users to avoid river pollution and stay safe;
2. Pressure Thames Water to invest in upgrading the sewage system and treatment works upstream, increasing capacity so they no longer overflow during heavy rainfall and making them fit for the 21st Century.
Over 600 beaches are Designated Bathing Waters in the UK. Back in the 1990s, only 27% of these passed the minimum bathing water quality standards. A concerted effort by campaigners, environmental organisations and local government forced the water companies to invest in improving their infrastructure. Now, 98.5% pass the minimum standards.
The same can, and should, happen for rivers. It’s time to end sewage pollution and start treating our rivers as what they are: a beautiful and precious natural gift and resource, rather than an open sewer.
1. Environment Agency, Catchment Data Explorer, Thames (Evenlode to Thame) https://environment.data.gov.uk/catchment-planning/WaterBody/GB106039030334
2. Data extracted from the Rivers Trust "is your river fit to swim in?" map https://www.theriverstrust.org/what-we-do/is-your-river-fit-to-swim-in/
Dataset for upper Thames here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Dd5drRA7e7FtXQpVcZJY6prc6aDIoVrwBJhwoyJUIzc/edit?usp=sharing
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