World Rivers Day: Rivers Fit To Swim In Map

Emily Cooper


This World Rivers Day, we have one wish: Rivers Fit To Swim In. We want all of our rivers to be clean enough that you wouldn't have a second thought about taking the plunge. When rivers are clean, other great things follow; wildlife can grow in abundance and diversity, plants begin to flourish, and people can enjoy the river without worry. Following reports which suggest that our rivers are being used as open sewers, many swimmers and other river users are concerned about the health risks of their favourite hobby. When sewage is released into rivers, it results in huge increases in pathogen numbers. These harmful microorganisms can make us very sick, so it’s incredibly important that swimmers are able to make informed decisions before they take the plunge. This World Rivers Day, we want to give you a gift: the ability to enjoy our rivers at their cleanest. That’s why we’ve released an interactive map which pinpoints the locations of sewage outfalls in your area. This can help you to make more informed decisions about your swim, allowing you to stay upstream of any known discharges.

Is my river fit to swim in?

What causes river pollution?

There are three main causes of pollution in our rivers: natural, human and agricultural. Natural pollution can come from things like wildlife which use the river, and even this source of pollution has the potential to make people sick. However, this source of pollution is much smaller than human or agricultural pollution. Human pollution is largely caused by Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) and misconnections, while agricultural pollution can take a number of forms.

Human pollution: CSOs and misconnections

During periods of heavy rain, CSOs are used to provide relief to the sewer system, preventing our homes from flooding. Unfortunately, when CSOs kick in, rainwater mixed with raw sewage is discharged into our rivers. This means that everything which gets flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink – including non-biodegradable items like wetwipes – ends up polluting the river. In theory, the rainwater should dilute the sewage—however, the existing infrastructure can’t cope with our rapidly increasing population, leading to many discharging more than they should. Wet-wipes-buryWhen Combined Sewer Overflows discharge into rivers, everything that people flush down the toilet ends up polluting the waterway. Next, on to misconnections. In the UK, it is estimated that there are between 150,000 and 500,000 houses with drain misconnections. Within a property, there are usually two sewers: a waste water sewer and a surface water sewer.
  • A wastewater sewer is where household water (e.g. from showers, sinks, toilets, etc.) is sent to be treated at a wastewater treatment plant, before being released into the environment
  • A surface water sewer is where rainwater and runoff go to be directly released into rivers or streams
Sometimes the two become misconnected, meaning that untreated waste water is released into rivers, posing a serious threat to the environment and the health of river users.

Agricultural pollution

When livestock animals are kept in the vicinity of a river, pollution can occur in a number of ways. When direct access to the river is permitted, animals can defecate directly into the waterway - but even without direct access, rainwater can mix with manure and other animal waste, before draining into the river as runoff. In addition, decomposing animal carcasses near or in the river can severely damage water quality.

What next?

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive at The Rivers Trust, said: “Outdoor swimming, like all outdoor sports, carries an element of risk, but we’re certainly not trying to discourage wild swimming. By providing this interactive map, we can help swimmers weigh up the risks before taking the plunge and highlight some of the challenges facing our rivers. We hope that this information will encourage greater investment and collaboration to achieve a higher standard or water quality that is good for both people and wildlife.” Local Rivers Trusts are at the forefront of the fight to protect and improve our rivers. They work tirelessly to make rivers safe for those who use them; carrying out litter picks, improving water quality and creating new access points. However, they cannot protect swimmers against sewage release - which is why we've released our Rivers Fit To Swim In map. If you're interested in wild swimming, check out our resources: Download the Rivers Fit To Swim In press release.
This post is supported by WaterCo-Governance (WaterCoG) project under the Interreg North Sea Region VB programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund. WaterCoG
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