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River sampled in first step towards creating bathing water spot

Friday 25th June 2021 14:35

Volunteers braved the rain to take samples from the River Thames at the Oxford WaterBlitz

Volunteers braved the rain to take samples from the River Thames at the Oxford WaterBlitz

Water samples from the River Thames in Oxford will be analysed by Thames Water to determine whether the city could host only the second-ever designated river bathing spot in the country.

Dozens of river enthusiasts braved heavy rain to collect the samples from 18 sites along the river and its upstream tributaries as part of the city’s first WaterBlitz day last Friday (June 18).

The event was organised as part of the Oxford Rivers Project, the UK’s longest and largest study of bacterial water quality in rivers, and saw volunteers use pots on extendable poles to take samples from the river. The analysis of these will provide a snapshot of the levels of pollution from sewage, agriculture, and other domestic or commercial sources.

These samples will be processed in Thames Water laboratories and the results analysed by data scientists from The Rivers Trust to give a clearer picture of how safe the site currently is for recreational use. The results are set to be published at the end of the month, followed by a more detailed report in the autumn.

Thames Water’s CEO, Sarah Bentley, attended on the day to speak to volunteers, along with representatives from the water company, the Oxford Rivers Project, Thames21 and the Environment Agency.

She said: “It’s great to have been here today and carrying out testing so we can learn what’s affecting the river and work together to address this. I’ve also learnt today about the many ways, even during lockdown, people have been enjoying the river.

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them. We’re pleased to be working with local partners such as Thames21 and actively listening to our customers, who have clearly told us to do more to protect these incredible environments.

“We have substantial planned investment in our local sewer network and will also be upgrading sewage treatment works including a major expansion at Witney in Oxfordshire.

“We hope this investment, along with the new ways we’re trialling to protect rivers across the region, will start to improve the situation and we’re keen to do more work in partnership with Thames21 and other local organisations.”

Last year, more than 5,000 residents signed a petition calling for a designated bathing water area in Oxford, regular testing for bacteria, alerts of raw sewage spills, and improvements to the wastewater system. This led to the creation of the Oxford Rivers Project: a partnership between the #endsewagepollution mid-Thames campaign group, Oxford City Council, the Rivers Trust, Thames Water, and Thames21, which is hosting the project.

If the application is successful, the public will be able to access real-time water quality data throughout the official outdoor bathing season, which runs from May to September.

The company will also accelerate work to install more sewer monitoring devices to create a complete picture by 2023, while its business plan for the next five years will deliver environmental improvements to 745km of rivers across London and the Thames Valley.

Debbie Leach, CEO of Thames21, said: “The Oxford Rivers Project is a fantastic community-led initiative that shows how people can make a real difference and we are delighted to support it.

“The Council’s application for Bathing Water Status is a crucial opportunity that will give the rivers at Oxford the same public health testing as our seaside and ensure that it is safe to swim in. We need clean water in our rivers.”