River Deben users want swimming status for ‘beautiful asset’

Woodbridge is on the River Deben

Campaigners for improved water quality in a Suffolk river plan to apply to make it the third in England with bathing water status. Why do they do it and what would it mean for those who go on the water there?

“It is not acceptable for waste to end up in the river”

Environmental campaign group Save the Deben is behind the bid to gain designated bathing water status for the River Deben.

If successful, it will make the Suffolk river the third in the country to be certified as safe for bathers.

The Save the Deben application, due to be submitted in October, comes after recent studies showed E. coli levels in the river were “well above” government guidelines for bathing water.

The Environment Agency says it monitors E. coli in designated bathing waters, but the River Deben was not a designated site.

If that status were to change, it would give the river’s many users “peace of mind”, says Kevin Ward, who sails at Waldringfield.

The father-of-two from Kesgrave says he has been sailing for two full seasons and started because he felt it was “a waste not to use the wonderful river right on our doorstep”.

He goes with his 13-year-old son and says kids who sail “inevitably end up playing in the water a lot.”

However, recent publicity about possible pollution and E. coli in the Deben “didn’t help attract any of us to the river”.

“Designating the river as a swimming area should bring a lot more peace of mind through the certainty of water quality through regular testing as well as the pressure it will inevitably put on places by letting things run into the river,” he says.

“It is not acceptable for waste of any kind to end up in the river and although we should not take the river for granted, we should feel safe using the river and allow our children to use the river without fear of getting sick. .”

“It’s horrible to pollute a beautiful commodity”

Natasha Sones says she likes to encourage others to swim or row for the mental and physical health benefits they offer.

“But it’s not easy when the water isn’t the best quality,” says the 42-year-old, who has been swimming and paddleboarding regularly in Deben for three years.

He says he was “very concerned” when he heard about the E. coli levels in the Deben and says he has friends who have seen sewage or become ill after being in the water.

“It’s really appalling to know that such a beautiful asset in our area is being polluted in this way,” says the mum-of-three.

The blogger from Hollesley says giving the river swimming water status would make users feel “much more confident”.

“E. coli will be properly monitored and we’ll know it’s being taken seriously,” he says.

“Clean water without fear of getting sick”

Caroline Page and Ruth Leach in their swimwear on the River Deben

Campaign founders Caroline Page and Ruth Leach say they want river users to enjoy a “clean environment”

Save the Deben was founded by Lib Dem county councilor Caroline Page and local artist Ruth Leach, who both swim in the river.

They say they want all users to “enjoy a pleasant and clean environment where they can swim, sail, paddle and enjoy other activities such as crabbing and paddling safely and without fear of getting sick.”

The group says the bathing water situation would increase pressure on water companies to improve water quality in the designated area by investing in and improving current infrastructure.

Currently, the only other two rivers with designated swimming waters in the UK are the River Wharfe in Ilkley, Yorkshire and Wolvercote Mill in Port Meadow, Oxford.

According to government guidelines, the standard for E. coli in good coastal or inland swimming water is less than 500 colony forming units per 100ml of water.

Recent studies showed there were several sites along the Deben that were “significantly” higher than the standard, and Ufford Parish Council recently put up warning signs at Hawkswade Bridge, known locally as Ufford Hole, after high levels were found.

The Environment Agency says that while it welcomes the “increasing interest of people using rivers and open water for recreation”, current regulations for rivers and open water in England protect wildlife and are not designed to protection of human health.

River users will take part in a two-hour relay from Felixstowe Ferry to Woodbridge Pier on September 24 as part of an event to raise awareness of the issue and support the designated bathing water application.

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