The idea that we might have river beaches that are clean enough for people to bathe from seems uncontroversial. Except, of course, it isn’t, in the slightest, as this campaign from Ilkley shows us.
The creation of the first designated bathing water spot in a UK river has moved one step closer after the government published a consultation on the plans.
A stretch of the River Wharfe in Ilkley, which is popular with swimmers and families, would be the only river in the country to be subjected to strict monitoring during May to October to ensure the water is of good quality.
Shrug, why not?
Well, the why not is the cost. To do this the entire sewage system for the entire area will have to be changed. Upgraded so that there is no storm runoff, no overflow when the rain hammers down. And they’re not being shy about their insistence that this is the point and purpose either:
“Local people and agencies all support the application and have worked hard to prove how much we need it, so we anticipate a positive outcome,” said Becky Malby, of the clean river campaign. “People living in Ilkley expect our sewage to be treated, not dumped straight into the river every time it rains. We were shocked to find that our river was being used as an open sewer. We have stories of children getting sick as a result of dipping in the river. This is a disgrace. Bathing status is a critical step in cleaning up our river.”
This has a cost, this upgrade. And so the people demanding this higher level of cleanliness should be paying that higher cost. You get the benefit then you should be paying the cost.
Sadly, current charging practices for the water companies don’t allow such differentiation. So, we should change those practices to allow it. At which point that extra £10 or £100 a year will be charged to all households in the watershed for this part of the river. And then people will be facing the costs of their demands. Which is as it should be of course. We’ll also find out whether those households think that’s worth it. For only revealed, not merely expressed, preferences count.
The Guardian revealed last month that raw sewage was discharged by water companies into rivers via storm overflows for 1.5m hours in 2019. River campaigners are pressing for bathing water status to be rolled out in popular river bathing areas to force water companies to stop the discharges.
They want the sewage system upgraded. That’s fine, that’s entirely cool. As long as they bear the costs of doing so that is. Therefore we should make clear to them those costs then ask them.
Why wouldn’t we do that? And why wouldn’t we charge people for what they demand?