Wetherby Leeds: New Bathing site for wild swimming at River Wharfe gets go ahead amid ‘raw sewage’ concerns

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The green light has been given for a new bathing site in Wetherby, as the government promised “regular” water quality checks for swimmers.

Wetherby Riverside, a serene stretch of the River Wharfe near to the town’s bridge and downstream from the weir, has been a favoured spot for wild swimmers to cool off when the sun is shining.

But some have argued that “raw sewage” being dumped into the watercourse make it an unsafe place to swim, as dangerous bacteria lurks in the river.

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Wetherby Riverside, a stretch along the River Wharfe, has been given the green light to become a designated bathing site. Photo: Oliver - stock.adobe.com.Wetherby Riverside, a stretch along the River Wharfe, has been given the green light to become a designated bathing site. Photo: Oliver - stock.adobe.com.
Wetherby Riverside, a stretch along the River Wharfe, has been given the green light to become a designated bathing site. Photo: Oliver - stock.adobe.com. | Oliver - stock.adobe.com

The government announced today (May 13) that the site, near to the Wilderness Car Park, will be designated as official bathing water ahead of this summer.

Water Minister Robbie Moore said it will mean that regular monitoring will be carried out to “ensure bathers have up-to-date information” on water quality, enabling action to be taken if minimum standards are not met.

Plans to designate Wetherby Riverside as one of 27 new bathing sites across England were first announced back in February. They were welcomed by some, as it would bring an obligation for the Environment Agency to carry out regular water monitoring.

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Green Party Coun Penny Stables, who represents the Wetherby ward at Leeds City Council, said at the time she was “absolutely against anyone going in the river” because of “how polluted it is”. She welcomed the proposal, but remained sceptical about action being taken as a result of the move.

Sewage spills and discharges into rivers mean they can carry bacteria such as E coli and intestinal enterococci, which can make swimmers ill.

In 2021, “unusually high” E coli levels were found in samples collected along the River Wharfe immediately upstream from Ilkley in a citizen science project from group iWharfe.

Water companies are allowed to release untreated sewage into rivers at times of exceptional rainfall when the system becomes overwhelmed.

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The site has historically been a favoured spot for wild swimmers to cool off when the sun is shining. Photo: teamjackson - stock.adobe.com.The site has historically been a favoured spot for wild swimmers to cool off when the sun is shining. Photo: teamjackson - stock.adobe.com.
The site has historically been a favoured spot for wild swimmers to cool off when the sun is shining. Photo: teamjackson - stock.adobe.com. | teamjackson - stock.adobe.com

Tory Minister Robbie Moore said today he was “pleased” to have approved the new bathing sites.

“These popular swimming spots will now undergo regular monitoring to ensure bathers have up-to-date information on the quality of the water and enable action to be taken if minimum standards aren’t being met,” he said.

“I am fully committed to seeing the quality of our coastal waters, rivers and lakes rise further for the benefit of the environment and everyone who uses them.”

The move, which followed a public consultation, comes three years after a nearby spot along the same river – Cromwell, in Ilkley – became the first designated bathing site in England. It takes the total number of bathing waters in England to 451.

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That number includes 12 sites along rivers. Previously, only three rivers in England had stretches designated for swimming, all of which received a “poor” water quality rating from the Environment Agency last year.

The government is set to launch a consultation later this year on proposals to reform bathing water regulations in England, which it said among other measures would include monitoring outside of the official bathing water season, which runs from May 15 to September 30.

Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said that the importance of bathing waters “cannot be understated”, which is why the agency provides “rigorous testing”.

He added: “Overall bathing water quality has improved massively over the last decade due to targeted and robust regulation from the Environment Agency, and the good work carried out by partners and local groups.

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“We know that improvements can take time and investment from the water industry, farmers and local communities, but where the investment is made, standards can improve.”

The government said that 96% of sites met minimum standards last year, which was up from 76% in 2010.

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