Water sports advocated for clean Thames water following Oxford-Cambridge boat race

Seven water-based sports formed the “The Clean Water Alliance” after increasing awareness of water pollution and its risks from the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. 

The alliance advocates for stronger governmental action to improve water quality. It calls for regulators to increase regulation of water companies’ sewage spills, allowing accurate access to real-time water quality information, and compulsory monitoring of all sewage outlets.

The alliance consists of water-based sports groups, such as British Rowing, British Triathlon, Swim England, the Royal Yachting Association, and others, totalling around 450,000 members. 

Cameron Taylor, chief executive of GB Outrigger, said: “Polluted water is a death knell for British sport. Clean water needs to move from being considered a ‘nice to have’ to a literal ‘we can’t live without’. Without clean water, we do not exist.”

“With this new partnership we hope to embody the dedication of our athletes and strive towards cleaning, protecting and preserving the blue spaces on which our sports rely,” said Alastair Marks, chief executive of British Rowing.

This effort comes after alarmingly high levels of E.coli were detected in the River Thames leading up to the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge in March.

Oxford rowers claimed that pollution-related issues adversely impacted their performance. 

Oxford Rower Leonard Jenkins said: “We’ve had a few guys go down with E.Coli strain.” On the day of the race, he said “I threw up this morning but decided to row. I am not sure whether that was the right decision.”

Water testing results from River Action found average levels of E.coli at “2,863 E.coli colony forming units (CFU) per 100ml of water.” Some areas of the Thames had as many as 9,801 CFU per 100ml. The Environment Agency deems inland water with more than 1,000 CFU per 100ml as “poor” and advises against bathing in such conditions.

Another reform that the Clean Water Alliance hopes to push for is for the government to change the designation of “bathing waters” to “recreation waters” to recognise the various activities that depend on the water’s quality. 

E.Coli is a type of bacteria found in faeces and can cause a variety of infections, gastrointestinal complications, and, in the most severe cases, sepsis.

This pollution data follows reports of record high reports of sewage spills in England. 464,056 spills occurred in 2023, a 54% increase from 301,091 spills in 2022. The total hours of spillage in 2023 was 3,606,170, a 105% increase from 1,754,921 hours in 2022.

While the Environment Agency claims that much of this rise was due to exceptionally rainy weather causing overflows, sewage cleanup advocates suggest that a lack of regulation of water companies’ infrastructure is the cause.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced that action is being taken. The department said it has banned “water bosses’ bonuses when criminal breaches have occurred, quadrupled company inspections next year, provided more funding to our water regulators, and fast-tracked investment to cut spills.” They emphasized that repercussions “up to and including criminal prosecution” will be taken against violating water companies. 

Sean Bowden, coach of the Oxford University Boat Club, commented on the issue of the Thames water quality. “It would be terrific if the Boat Race drew attention to it. We are very keen to play a part and we recognise we have a role and a responsibility to it.” 

Oxford University Boat Club has been reached out for comments.

Image Credit: ale via Wikimedia Commons