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Consultation opened for bathing status at the River Wharfe in Ilkley

Government body Defra has released the consultation on the Ilkley application for Bathing Status at the River Wharfe in Ilkley.

The Ilkley Clean River Group, made up of local residents, with the support of MP Robbie Moore, Ilkley Town Council and Bradford City Council, has applied for a stretch of the River Wharfe to be designated as a bathing water. The application shows that the area between Old Bridge and Beanlands Island in Ilkley is used for swimming and paddling. The group has been investigating the pollution which comes from storm overflows upstream of Ilkley, with high levels of E-coli from sewage in the river when it rains.

The objective of designating a beach or inland water as a bathing water is to protect bathers' health by monitoring for intestinal enterococci and E.coli in the water. The Environment Agency (EA) takes water quality samples during the bathing season, which in England runs from 15 May to 30 September.

A spokesperson for the Ilkley Clean River Group said: "Finally, Defra is consulting on our application for Bathing Water Status. Local people and agencies all support the application and have worked hard to prove how much we need it, so we anticipate a positive outcome. People living in Ilkley expect our sewage to be treated not dumped straight into the river every time it rains. We were shocked to find that our river was being used as an open sewer. We have stories of children getting sick as a result of dipping in the river. This is a disgrace. Bathing status is a critical step in cleaning up our river."

“Yorkshire Water has committed to finding a proper solution in Ilkley if we get designation.”

The group ran 3 Town Meetings over a year with 300 people attending, where all the data about the quality of the water in the river was presented. They also ran an online survey with 527 people responding in support. 50 volunteers took part in water testing and counting people at the river.

The consultation runs until 2 October, views can be given at

The Ilkley Clean River Group have provided the following FAQs:

1. Local Engagement

Ilkley Clean River Group (a group of Ilkley residents) ran 3 Town Meetings over a 1 year period with 300 people attending where we provided all the data about the quality of the water in the river. We also provided an online survey with 527 people responding in support. 50 volunteers took part in water testing and counting people at the river. Despite this we have to take part in another consultation from Defra.

Our Bathing Status application is supported by:

Robbie Moore MP The Town Council Bradford Council 527 Ilkley residents surveyed, and the people at the Town Meetings.

2. Will Bathing Status attract more people?

If we get bathing status signs will have to go up saying whether the water is clean enough for people to let their kids paddle in it. Currently its not safe every time it rains and for some hours (possibly days) after, and its never safe under any conditions downstream of the footbridge. This is because bathing status triggers regular testing of the water in Ilkely. It could be that those signs put people off as currently people dont know its polluted.

3. Why do we have to do this? Surely Yorkshire Water shouldnt put raw sewage in the river? Don't we pay for our sewage to be treated?

Yorkshire Water is acting legally in dumping raw sewage in the river when it rains. They are allowed to do so as soon as the 'inflow' into the sewage works gets over capacity, which is currently every time it rains. This was 77 days in 2019 between April and December. We have challenged the legality of this but the Environment Agency is defending their position. The UK is currently non-compliant with European Legislation on this since 2011. We have also tried to get the 'limit' raised but the Environment Agency insists that water quality is good so there is no need. EA monitoring is designed to detect water quality problems that cause damage to wildlife not health hazards for people. With Bathing Status the state of the river will be monitored and public. This pressures Yorkshire Water to sort out our infrastructure. Currently they are planning to get all the rainwater straight into the river so that its not mixing with our household waste. If they do that the sewage works can probably cope with all our sewage and treat it all. This is called 'decombining' the sewage system. Currently rainwater and household waste all combines in one sewer and goes into the sewage works together.

4. How bad is the water quality

We have tested the E-Coli (sewage pollution) at Ilkley and you can see our results on our website here.

In dry weather it is safe to paddle, play and swim upstream of the footbridge. It is not safe to paddle, play ro swim there when it is raining or there has been recent rain. It is never safe to paddle, play or swim below the footbridge all the way to Beanlands or downstream at Burley. The levels of E-Coli are 40-50 times (40x in dry weather, 50x in wet weather) the level that is safe for getting in the water. The water here is always a public health hazard.

We have been campaigning for Yorkshire Water to put up signs to say the river is polluted and a danger to public health but so far they haven't done so.

We have known for a year that this is unsafe but noone is taking any notice, thats why we are campaigning for bathing status.

5. Will our bills go up?

No. Ofwat is already trying to reduce our bills by 1%, and is requiring Yorkshire Water to put in place improvements without price rises.

Further information is available on the Ilkley Clean River Group website.


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