Water Quality

During and after the pandemic we saw a boom in outdoor swimming. Social media,  press articles and various tv shows have widened the appeal of outdoor swimming in all its forms. 

Alongside this we have seen an increasing public awareness of pollution in our rivers, lakes and seas. TV programs have highlighted the issue, the press share stories, people share and repeat stories on social media. Its hard to know what's really going on. 

So is it really safe to swim in the river? 

Firstly I believe people want to access clean water and not get sick. We also want our natural world to thrive.
 I have pulled together some info with a range of articles and resources to help you decide. After all, as outdoor swimmers we need to be able to assess our own risks and decide for ourselves. 

What else is in the river water? 

Unfortunately we know that waste water, drains and sewerage systems cannot store or cope with high rainfall events on top of the everyday waste we produce. Therefore at times our water companies will discharge unprocessed waste into our rivers. 
You can use this map to see where outlets are and how often they discharge. 

We also have a relatively new resource from Yorkshire Water that gives live data about discharge: https://www.yorkshirewater.com/environment/storm-overflows/live-map/

We know that agriculture and farming play a large part in the pollution picture with farming chemicals or slurry flowing into our rivers during these high rainfall events. 

General run off from roads, tracks, fields, car parks, urban areas, woodland and moors will also flow into the rivers; from gritty soil, fallen trees, urban grime, vegetation, tree sap and autumn leaves. 

High rainfall events are more frequent now than in previous decades due to climate change. These are the times when run off and discharge are highest. 

Unfortunately we also see incidents or accidents when waste flows into the river. These need to be reported to the Environment Agency asap. 

When is this happening? 

High rainfall events, summer cloud bursts or winter storms are likely to overwhelm the sewerage systems. Watch out for snow melt as farmers often take advantage of the cold hard ground to spread slurry on the land in early spring. 

You can track your river so you know what the water flow is like in different seasons. If you see it rise you know that the water is coming from somewhere. You can use your knowledge of upstream to consider what else will be flowing into the river. 

I use this site to track my local river levels: 

You can also use the weather forecast to help predict rainfall events and understand the impact on the river. Take care to consider the ground conditions too. Heavy rain after a dry spell may be absorbed by the ground. Rain on top of snow melt will likely result in a lot of run-off. 

What about those kids who were really ill after swimming at Knaresborough Lido last year? 

I guess they went to enjoy the lido alongside 100's of others on a hot day last August. So that's 100's of people splashing and playing in the water, stirring up the weeds and natural filtration, water going in their mouths. No loos or hand washing facilities, before munching on their picnics all in the blazing hot sun. I am not surprised some people are ill on days like these. 

The Outdoor Swimming Society did a massive survey of swimmers and found very low levels of illness in swimmers. Read for yourself here: www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/10-ways-to-stay-well-swimming

So therefore the evidence suggests that the risks to experienced outdoor swimmers who consider the conditions, and how they swim are relatively low. 

What's the deal with Bathing Status? 

A number of local groups have been involved in an application for Designated Bathing Status at Knaresborough. The ultimate goal is to work with all parties to provide safe and clean bathing waters. For a detailed explanation visit this page: 

So is the river clean? 

Outdoor Swimming should always be considered carefully. There are many issues to think about, one being the water quality. However when I lead groups in the summer I also often say that the biggest risk is slipping over and bumping your bum, which is why slips and trips are at the top of my risk assessments. 

From the Outdoor Swimming Society article linked above, here is some top tips about water quality.

  1. Don’t go in if it looks iffy
  2. Caution after heavy rain
  3. Consider the location – head for purer water
  4. Don’t swallow water
  5. Know your body/current state of health
  6. No contact lenses
  7. Cover cuts/allow major wounds to heal
  8. Dry your ears
  9. Wash your hands
I would also add.... use your nose. If it smells iffy, it probably is. 

We all have different tolerances and ideas around this emotive topic. Whilst its not acceptable that our rivers are polluted, this does not mean they are unsafe to swim. 

If you spend some time getting to know your river, the weather and your surroundings you should be able to keep yourself safe. 

To learn more come along to one of my Confidence Pods where I will share more information about safe river swimming.