Utility to support the creation of inland swimming hotspots in the East of England

The River Waveney in Norfolk is one of the three targeted by the support package.

Plans to attain bathing water designation at three sites across the East of England are to be supported by a new package of work from Anglian Water.

The chosen sites, some of the most popular rivers in the region, will undergo detailed monitoring studies as part of the water company’s plans to bring together key partners and provide funding to carry out regular monitoring of the water quality in and around the popular swimming sites.

The utility says it has committed to go further to clean up rivers as part of its Get River Positive programme, “demonstrating just how seriously it is focussing on creating a flourishing environment, and delivering on the expectations of customers, stakeholders and the environment itself to transform river health across the region”.

It forms the basis of commitments made by the water company to ensure that storm overflows and sewage treatment works do not harm rivers and the first stages towards 90% of the region’s population to live less than 1-hourfrom a designated bathing spot by 2030.

The first locations include the River Cam south of Cambridge, the River Deben at Woodbridge and the River Waveney in Bungay. The data will provide valuable information for local river groups, who already use the areas for wild swimming, as some plan to progress applications for formal bathing water designation via the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Anglian Water says it will support the rivers groups by funding a robust sampling methodology and working with local groups to undertake analysis to assess the suitability of these river stretches for bathing, under the guidance of the Centre for Research into Environment and Health (CREH), who are affiliated with the World Health Organisation.

Professor David Kay from Centre for Research into Environment and Health (CREH) said: “It is key to ensure the data produced is quality assured and credible. This can be achieved by using samplers and laboratories maintained by UK regulators and that are externally audited on a regular basis. We are therefore supportive of Anglian Water’s proposals to assist local rivers groups by providing the resources and infrastructure to sample and analyse the data needed to have greater awareness of the baseline water quality in potential future bathing water designated locations.”

In partnership with local wild swimming and river groups, water sampling and data collection is now underway. Whilst water quality data isn’t required as part of an application for bathing water designation, the water company hopes that providing a set of baseline data will give information and assurance for users of the rivers and reservoirs.

As this baseline is established, Anglian Water teams will review any action needed at its own treatment works and networks to clean up these stretches of river to make them safe to swim in as well as working to bring together partners from other sectors and organisations who may also be contributing to the quality of the water.

Director of Quality and Environment for Anglian Water, Dr Robin Price said: “Since the pandemic, we’ve seen an enormous surge of people embracing their local environment and using their local rivers and water courses for wild swimming, paddleboarding and canoeing.

“We fully support the aspirations of our customers that our rivers should be beautiful places, rich in nature, but also know how valuable they have become for community recreation and wellbeing, and the expectation that they should be safe places for people to enjoy. We want people to know we are listening – as part of Get River Positive we’re committed to playing our part in making that happen by ensuring our operations are not the reason for poor river health, but as importantly, we’ll work to bring the right people together who also have a role to play.”

Martha Meek, Development Manager from the River Waveney Trust said: “I am delighted that we are beginning to work in partnership with Anglian Water on improving and monitoring water quality on the River Waveney. Water companies have a big part to play in the health of our rivers, ensuring they are fit for all to play in, and the new Anglian Water Get River Positive campaign is a really welcome step towards a much more transparent and accessible company. We welcome this partnership approach and hope that together we can achieve more for the river.”

Ruth Leach, co-founder of ‘Save The Deben’ campaign based in Woodbridge, Suffolk said: “We are pleased to be working in partnership with Anglian Water as part of their Get River Positive initiative to make our region’s rivers the healthiest they can be. The teams involved have been helpful in supporting and assisting us to prepare our designated bathing water status application for our stretch of the River Deben. Engaging with Get River Positive has made scientific information accessible to citizen scientists locally, helping us to establish the facts accurately, and has aided our ‘Save The Deben’ campaign.”

Mike Foley, Water Quality Monitor for the Cam Valley Forum said:

“I warmly welcome Anglian Water’s Get River Positive initiative as it is a significant commitment towards helping make the River Cam cleaner and healthier. I consider the Forum to be a ‘critical friend’ of the water company, and am delighted that the results from our citizen science project together with constructive lobbying by communities on the Cam, especially swimmers and our many other river users, have prompted the company to expand testing to the highest standard and integrity, and to pledge improvements. Anglian Water’s willingness to work in partnership with us and openly share all their data at every stage is laudable.”

Cllr Pippa Heylings from South Cambridgeshire District Council said:

“We have unanimously adopted a motion at Full Council that calls for urgent improvements to the water quality in our precious chalk streams and rivers so that they are safe for families, swimmers, rowers and other users to enjoy, as well as enabling wildlife to thrive. We welcome the ambition of Anglian Water’s Get River Positive programme. We also welcome partnership working between Anglian Water, local river groups and us as local authorities in exploring the possibility of an application for designated bathing status for a stretch along the river Cam. Only together can we achieve more for our streams and river.”

Bathing Water designation
Water quality at designated bathing water sites in England is assessed by the Environment Agency. From May to September, weekly assessments measure current water quality. Annual ratings classify each site as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements taken over a period of up to four years.

The timetable of the work is as follows:
· Autumn 2022 – Autumn 2023: Water quality monitoring to be undertaken by Anglian Water experts on the River Waveney, River Deben and River Cam
· Throughout the sampling period: Establish water quality baseline for all sites and data review to understand if any additional work on Anglian Water assets or input from other partners is needed to improve water quality.
· Autumn 2023: Rivers groups together with local authorities can then decide whether to make formal applications for bathing water designation to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
· 2024: If designation application is successful, the Environment Agency then would undertake formal monitoring of the new bathing locations before assigning a water quality classification at the end of the first bathing season.