Bathing season starts today (15 May) and the Environment Agency (EA) will commence regular testing of the River Wharfe at Ilkley, however the Ilkley Clean River Group say there is no testing of the highly polluted section of the river.
In 2019 the Ilkley Clean River Group, a group of local residents, applied successfully for Bathing Status for a 1 mile stretch of the River Wharfe at Ilkley, the first river in the UK to be awarded this status.
Bathing status secures water quality testing by the Environment Agency, and signage to indicate water quality for the public.
A spokesperson for the Ilkley Clean River Group (ICRG) said: “We are delighted to have secured Bathing Status for the river and town, with the intent to trigger a clean-up of the river.
“The application covered 2 sections of the river, one upstream of the sewage works, and one that includes the 'storm overflow' and treated sewage work outlet - both stretches were approved by Defra.
“The Environment Agency is testing in the section upstream of the sewage works. This is where the Ilkley Clean River Group has already, using citizen science, demonstrated that in dry weather the river is fit for people to paddle, play and swim.
“The EA has described the designation on its site as 'The Cromwheel' at Ilkley indicating a stretch of the river that is 1/10th of the whole stretch approved by Defra. The EA has told us that there is little point testing downstream as the river is polluted. It cites publicly that it is only required to test at one point. However testing also secures signage which is why we applied for the whole 1 mile stretch and included it as 2 sections.
“This means that there is no testing of the highly polluted section of the river where raw sewage is discharged over 100 days of every year (over the last 3 years it has never been less than 110 days) - that is a third of the year. It also means there is no signage warning of the pollution. This section was included in the designation application because of the high levels of usage by local children and visitors. It is the area that first catalysed the campaign. Our testing of the water in this section demonstrates pollution 35-50 times the levels that are safe for people to paddle, play and swim. We have known this now for nearly 2 years and still the public is not informed. Yorkshire Water and Bradford Council have so far failed to agree working for signage in this area, despite multiple requests from the Clean River Group representing Ilkley residents.
“The new Water Partnership between Yorkshire Water and Bradford Council with other partners is welcomed, but its focus on data is not securing the level of clean up in Ilkley that is needed to protect people and wildlife.
“2 years on from the campaign, and even with Bathing Status our river is still being treated as an open sewer. Responses from the agencies persistently refer to the difficulty of cleaning up the river. The solution is known - the system needs to be de-combined so only household waste goes to the treatment works
“We will continue to campaign for solutions to the problem, and for the recognition of the whole designation as per the Town's application”