Cherwell.org reports: As the weather warms, lockdown restrictions begin to lift, and students return to Oxford for Trinity Term, outdoor activities, including wild swimming, are on the rise. Students have been taking to the banks of Port Meadow for picnics, and some are venturing into the water of the River Thames. This idyllic summer image, however, is undermined by the alarming levels of bacteria that can be found in the water as a result of sewage dumping by Thames Water into the waterways in and around Oxford.
A study funded by Thames Water and published by the group #EndSewagePollution found harmful levels of E.coli Bacteria present in The River Thames in Port Meadow from January to March 2021. At each of four tested locations, E. coli levels exceeded the threshold level for safe bathing water quality during three of the ten weeks. This study, amongst others, is part of a movement supported by Thames Water to turn Oxford into a designated bathing water area, allowing the already-existing population of wild swimmers to continue with their activities safely.
A petition on Change.org has over 5,000 signatures to give the Thames in Oxford, also known as the Isis, designated bathing water status. While the movement to achieve this status has been taken on by Oxford City Council, at the current levels of dumping, the water quality assessment for such a swimming area would still fall into the “poor” categorisation. In the meantime, various projects are in place to help swimmers make educated decisions about safety. Amongst these is a brand new alert system published by Thames Water that gives live updates on sewage discharges from six locations in and around the city.
The alert system is currently operating via Twitter and Facebook, with updates stating “please be aware our monitoring systems at [discharge point] are indicating a discharge of diluted sewage to the river started at [time].” Recent updates have been coming in on what can sometimes be a daily basis.
The movement has truly been spearheaded by the “local community community of passionate river swimmers, paddlers, anglers, rowers, and nature enthusiasts,” Robertson explained, “the people of Oxford genuinely love their rivers, and want to see them clean, healthy, and well-protected.”
Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director, said: “Discharges of untreated sewage are unacceptable to us, our customers and the environment, and we will work with the government, Ofwat, the Environment Agency and others to accelerate work to stop them being necessary.”