Consultation on Oxford River to be Bathing Water Begins

Following Oxford’s application for the designation of Bathing Water status for the River Thames at Wolvercote Mill Stream, a popular site for swimming and other water activities, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now launching a national public consultation on the matter. If successful, the site will be only the second river swimming area in the UK to receive official Government designation, according to a press release from the Oxford City Council.

The application was submitted by the Oxford Rivers Project, a partnership between Oxford City Council, The Rivers Trust, the environmental charity Thames21 and Thames Water.

This came after Thames Water was revealed to be releasing raw sewage in the river, which was met with protests by Oxford locals, many of whom frequently swim in the waters. Many of the university’s colleges also use the river for rowing and punting. The Cassington sewage treatment works, which is being conducted only 2 miles upstream of the bathing water site and has been facing stern public backlash, is now under investigation for suspected incomplete treatment of sewage and ‘early spilling’, the act of discharging raw sewage to the environment before the treatment works are at capacity. In addition, a water quality testing for harmful bacteria at the site carrier out last year also showed that after rainfall, bacteria levels there can rise up to 8 times the safe limit.

The applicants hope that the designation will improve the water quality and make it safer for swimmers, since the Environment Agency will be legally required to test the water quality regularly and clear signage indicating the water quality must be displayed once the site is designated, leading to a reduction of raw sewage discharges.

The application has generally been well received by the public in Oxford, with 96% of local people consulted responding in favour of a designation. There is also political support for the motion from Oxford City Councillors and the MP Layla Moran, who has tabled a debate on the issue in Parliament. In a statement, Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Tourism, Oxford City Council, express her delight on the news, saying that “If you are a fan of our rivers, then I encourage you to take part in the national consultation.”

Claire Robertson, the Thames21 Oxford Rivers Project Officer who submitted the application, said, “It’s even more self-evident that raw sewage discharges should not happen anywhere near this site”, adding that he hopes the application “if successful, will be part of the growing movement to clean up our rivers nationwide and accelerate investment by water companies to protect them as beautiful, precious natural places – not a place for raw sewage.”

The public can respond to the consultation on the DEFRA website until March 2nd.

Image Description: Keble College Rowers Training on the Isis