DEFRA has today awarded a section of the River Wharfe in Ilkley with Bathing Water Status - the first in the UK.
Ilkley Clean River Campaign [ICRC] represented the Town residents with the application, supported by Ilkley Town Council, Bradford Council, and Yorkshire Water, following concerned about the levels of pollution in the river.
A spokesperson for ICRC said: “This is a significant environmental landmark as a step towards cleaning up the river so that it is fit for people and wildlife, and we hope that more designations at rivers in the UK will follow. The volume of respondents to the consultation demonstrates how important this issue is to the public.
“We look forward to working with the new partnership between the agencies, authorities and Yorkshire Water to secure a clean environment.
“Designation is for a site on the river which is popular with local people and visitors. It means that from 2021 the Environment Agency will be required to test the water regularly during the year to determine the level of faecal pollution at the site. Bradford Council will then be required to provide that information to the public.”
In total there were 1073 replies to the consultation,, the largest response to date for a proposed bathing water designation, with 998 of respondents in favour of making the site a designated bathing water area.
The designation stretches from the main bridge on New Brook Street at Ilkley to Beanlands Island - the area most popular with local children, near the sewage treatment works where the pollution continues to be a danger to public health.
The ICRC spokesperson added: “We continue to campaign for Yorkshire Water to discharge untreated sewage into the river only in exceptional weather conditions. A 20% reduction in storm overflows is welcome. Using last year's data this would reduce the number of days raw sewage is spilling into the river from 114 to 91 days in the year. This is still outside our understanding of a 'storm overflow' of raw sewage discharge in exceptional weather conditions. However we have not been informed if this is 20% of days, incidents or total inflow. This would also mean that the river is unlikley to pass bathing quality requirements in the short term (ie the quality of water safe to paddle play or swim in), so we also look forward to hearing the longer term plan for a radical reduction in storm overflows.
“We expect the designation to trigger a clean up of the sewage system, including investment in the sewage infrastructure. We would particularly like to thank Ilkley Town Council who have supported the campaign and funded the water testing that lead us to this application.”
Robbie Moore, MP for Ilkley and Keighley, welcomed the news, but has safety concerns: “As a mechanism for providing stricter regulation to improve water quality, I welcome the decision made by DEFRA to grant Bathing Water Status to this section of the river. This will through regulatory means now put pressure on Yorkshire Water to meet much higher standards when discharging water into the Wharfe. We all want improved water quality and with the Wharfe now having such status, this will also put pressure on the utility company to ensure improved investment into their sewage treatment infrastructure.
“I do however have grave concerns which relate to the safety of the river and attention must equally be given to that. Whist getting Bathing Water Status will help put more pressure on cleaning up the river, it must not be seen as granting the River Wharfe as a safe river in which to swim. I do believe that the title itself is misleading and focus should be given to its desired ‘clean water’ status – not its ‘swimming water’ status. Over previous years we have unfortunately had several incidents of individuals getting into difficultly in the river due to the strong currents and the ever-changing nature of the Wharfe. Therefore, appropriate measures must be put in place to discourage people from swimming in the river, or from jumping from the swing bridge. I will be working with Bradford Council to ensure such measures are put in place. Just because a river has Bathing Water Status, doesn’t mean it is safe in which to swim.”