Campaigners for improved water quality in a Suffolk river are planning to submit an application to make it the third in England with bathing water status. Why are they doing it and what would it mean to those who go into the water there?
‘It’s not acceptable for waste to end up in the river’
The Save the Deben environmental campaign group is behind the bid to get designated bathing water status for the River Deben.
If successful, it would make the Suffolk river the third in the country to be certified as safe for bathers.
Save the Deben’s application, which is to be submitted in October, comes after recent studies showed levels of E. coli in the river were “way above” government guidelines for bathing water.
The Environment Agency says it monitors E. coli at designated bathing waters, but the River Deben was not a designated site.
If this status were to change, it would give the river’s many users “peace of mind”, says Kevin Ward, who sails at Waldringfield.
The father-of-two from Kesgrave says he has been sailing for two full seasons and started because he felt it was a “waste not to use the wonderful river that’s right on our doorstep”.
He goes with his 13-year-old son and he says the children who sail “inevitably end up playing in the water a lot too”.
However, the recent publicity about the potential pollution and E. coli in the Deben “hasn’t helped entice any of us to the river”.
“Having the river designated as a bathing area should bring a lot more peace of mind through the certainty around the water quality through the regular testing as well as the pressure that will inevitably put on the parties potentially letting stuff run into the river,” he says.
“It’s not acceptable for waste of any kind to end up in the river and, although we shouldn’t take the river for granted, we should feel safe to use the river and to allow our children to use the river without fear of getting ill .”
‘It’s horrible that a beautiful asset is being polluted’
Natasha Sones says she loves to encourage others to swim or paddleboard for the mental and physical health benefits they bring.
“But it’s not easy when the water is not the best quality,” says the 42-year-old, who has been swimming and paddleboarding on the Deben regularly for three years.
She says she was “very concerned” when she heard about the levels of E. coli in the Deben, and says she has friends who have seen sewage or have been ill after being in the water.
“It’s really horrible to know that such a beautiful asset in our region is being polluted in this way,” says the mum of three.
The blogger from Hollesley says for the river to be given bathing water status would make users feel “much more confident”.
“E. coli will be properly monitored and we will know it’s being taken seriously,” she says.
‘Clean water without the fear of becoming ill’
Save the Deben was founded by Liberal Democrats county councilor Caroline Page and local visual artist Ruth Leach, who both swim in the river.
They say they want all users to “enjoy a pleasant and clean environment where they can swim, sail, paddle and enjoy other activities like crabbing and paddling in safety and without fear of becoming ill”.
The group says the bathing water status would increase the pressure on the water companies to improve water quality in the designated area by investing in and improving current infrastructure.
Currently, the only other two rivers with designated bathing water in the UK are the River Wharfe at Ilkley, Yorkshire, and Wolvercote Mill at Port Meadow, Oxford.
According to government guidelines, the standard for E. coli in good coastal or inland bathing water is less than 500 colony forming units per 100ml of water.
Recent studies showed there were several sites along the Deben that were “significantly” higher than the standard, and Ufford Parish Council recently put warning signs up at Hawkswade Bridge, known locally as Ufford Hole, after high levels were found.
The Environment Agency says although it welcomes “the growing interest of people using rivers and open waters for recreation”, current regulations for rivers and open waters in England protect wildlife and are not designed for the protection of human health.
River users will take part in a two-hour relay from Felixstowe ferry to Woodbridge quayside on September 24 as part of an event to raise awareness of the issue and in support of the designated bathing water application.
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