Ilkley’s Bathing River Is Nothing To Do With Bathing

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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?

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Pat
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Pat

One and a half hours a year. Instantly diluted and all gone in half a day. Hardly seems worth worrying about. Especially when you consider all the wildlife excreting into the rivers continuously.
Do we insist on distilled water in rivers?

Spike
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Spike

No, said 1.5m (millions, probably), but spread over all the rivers in England? Britain? the world?

Also said “We have stories of children getting sick”. We (Twitter) have stories of the poster’s own grandfather dying horribly of Covid and it’s ___’s fault, and those are unverified too.

Pat
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Pat

Further thoughts.
The discharge will be at times of maximum rainfall, hence maximum dilution, and when people are least likely to want to bathe.
If the river is clean enough for fish it’s clean enough for bathing.
However, if the foul and surface water systems were properly separated the flow at the sewage works would be less, so a smaller sewage works would be needed.
This could be justified by a saving on sewage treatment costs. It not. It depends.

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

Not just when people least likely to be bathing, but when it would be stupid to be bathing. Those rivers run quite fast when there’s a storm and they’d be swept away in no time.

This time of year the risks are approaching zero unless we get thunderstorms and again they really shouldn’t be bathing when they’re around.

Spike
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Spike

This is not the dark ages, and everyone has a place to bathe other than rivers, if they wish to bathe in drinking water. Moreover, those moments when raw sewage enters a river, we know when they are, and we can defer our bathing. Not only is there no proper allocation of cost, but the exercise is a pursuit of perfection, for which the proper exercise of economics is to discover the point of diminishing returns.

Excavator Man
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Excavator Man

Well, Pat. Fish shit in the sea. Where does it all end? The problem is that relatively small quantities of human gut bacteria multiply very quickly and they do hang around a bit more than chemicals, which as you say are instantly diluted and gone relatively quickly. If the river were to be made ‘pure’, then the minute people bathe in it, those nasty e.coli and other bacteria come out of the bathers’ shitty anuses (or from round them), so unless the river is chlorinated or something like it, the water quality will always be a bit dodgy. Personally, I’m… Read more »

John B
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John B

‘… relatively small quantities of human gut bacteria multiply very quickly..’ As do gut bacteria from animals as well as bacteria from decomposition of plant and animal in rivers or washed into them, and parasites from fæces and urine. This is why people in poor Countries, and our ancestors, suffered so many diseases from river water.

Rivers, lakes are dirty whatever we do which is why we don’t drink from them and should stay out of them.

The sea with its high mineral content particularly sodium chloride has a sanitising effect.

Excavator Man
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Excavator Man

Oddly, some animals’ crap is more harmful to humans than others. Its a bit like some bird species’ crap eats into the paint on a car more than others.

John B: Euripides got there before you: Thalassa kluzei panta t’anthropon kaka in his Medea.

Bloke on M4
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Bloke on M4

well, duh. Swimming in rivers is pretty much for macho/Darwin Award winners in the UK. You jump off a bridge into the river because there’s girls around (not that it actually seems to help).

Spend the same money on the local swimming pool instead. Kids will love it rather than cold, muddy rivers.

Grendel
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Grendel

Should those demanding something pay for it, or those who will benefit from it? Is there a consensus answer to that? Whilst there will clearly be an overlap, it might not be the same group. This is not exactly a Guardian expose as they make it sound… Thames Water were completely open about how the system works and how much sewage ends up in our rivers on a tour around Abbey Mills pumping station years ago. Hence the “super sewer” being built under the Thames to reduce (but not eliminate) overflow into the Thames* to just a few days a… Read more »

Spike
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Spike

As set out above, swimming in rivers is not a good idea, especially at times that sewers might overflow. So guaranteeing that rivers are always swimmably clean, net of the swimmers themselves, is an admirable non-goal. Consequently, I am for a system where you would pay more for it and I would not.