E coli levels in Suffolk river in Thérèse Coffey constituency far above legal limits, data shows

The government has asked water companies to create two river bathing water sites each in the next 12 months as it promises to drive a cleanup of rivers.

What chances for the Otter or the Axe?

And what about the Exe? Until December 1998,  the sludge from the Exeter Water Treatment Works was regularly transported by barge down the estuary and dumped at sea.- Owl

Sandra Laville www.theguardian.com 

E coli levels from treated sewage discharges into the River Deben in Thérèse Coffey’s constituency are far above legal limits for bathing water status, campaigners say.

As the environment secretary was due to visit Martlesham water treatment works in her constituency on the Deben in Suffolk on Friday, previously unpublished data given to campaigners by Anglian Water reveals extremely high levels of E coli in the river.

The government has asked water companies to create two river bathing water sites each in the next 12 months as it promises to drive a cleanup of rivers. Waters with bathing water status are regularly tested for E coli from May to September to ensure the safety of water users.

But the new data shows levels of the bacteria are so high they far exceed that required for bathing water status.

At their highest, levels measured at the outflow at the Martlesham treatment plant reached 640,000 colony forming units (CFU) per 100ml of water. E coli levels in bathing waters must not exceed 900 CFU/100ml.

Campaigners say the E coli is coming from treated sewage being released into the river and that the pollution has made it impossible for parts of the Deben to be considered for bathing water status.

Two areas of the Deben – Woodbridge and Waldringfield – have applied to become bathing water areas. At Woodbridge the tests showed levels as high as 20,000 CFU/100ml. The government rejected the area’s application for bathing water status.

At Waldringfield, average levels were 786 CFU/100ml and the area was approved to go forward to consultation for bathing water status.

Campaigners behind the bathing water application in Woodbridge believe the high levels of E coli from the discharge of treated sewage from treatment plants was the reason the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rejected the application for bathing water status.

Eamonn O’Nolan, a green councillor in Woodbridge, said: “We have been testing for 18 months and are pretty sure there was E coli in numerous locations around the Deben in Woodbridge.

“But Defra has steadfastly rejected our techniques. Now that we have the Anglian Water test results we are reassured but disappointed to find they corroborate what we have been finding. This is coming from treated sewage from the treatment plants along the river. We think this is the real reason Woodbridge was turned down.”

He said it would be very difficult to create a network of bathing water areas in rivers with this level of sewage pollution from treated effluent.

“This sewage is supposed to be treated. But it is not being treated to a level that means the water is safe. Only UV treatment would clean the sewage releases [sufficiently] and that is not in place. We are a passionate group of local residents totally fed up with the situation we are dealing with. People swim in the river at Woodbridge, people kayak on it and sail on it, so whether it has bathing water status or not, it is socially unacceptable to have such levels of E coli pollution.”

Bathing water status is being seen by campaigners as a way of unlocking investment by water companies in treatment plants, including installing costly UV treatment in the future – currently only used at some coastal sites – which cuts pollution.

Anglian Water said: “We share our customers’ desire to make our waterways healthier. Rivers should be beautiful places, rich in nature, and we know how valuable they have become for community recreation and wellbeing.

“At Anglian Water, we are committed to playing our part in making that happen. As part of our Get River Positive programme we’ve pledged to make sure our operations will not be the reason for poor river health.

“We’re already working with local river and wild swimming groups to support plans for bathing water designation, including those on the River Deben, to help initiate consistent monitoring by the Environment Agency. Alongside this, we’ve been working with the River Deben Association and the ‘Save the Deben Campaign’ for over a year to help monitor the water quality and start planning the necessary improvements our operational activity plays in it.”