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View from the water – Make the world better for swimming

Do something in 2018 to make the world better for swimming, says Simon Griffiths

It’s that time of year when we

make resolutions. I’d like to

suggest that in 2018, we, as

swimmers, resolve to do more for

the environment. Specifically, to take

action to improve the quality of the

rivers many of us love to swim in.

In November, the Economist

published an article (Cows and

seep, 18 Nov 17) that said 60% of

New Zealand’s waterways are not

safe for swimming. New Zealand! those stunning and pristine-looking

landscapes made famous by the Lord

of the Rings films are nothing like as

clean as they appear. The problem is

caused primarily by cattle, whose urine

is rich in nitrogen, which feeds toxic

algae blooms.

Outdoor Swimmer contributor and advisor Dan Abel spends six to eight months every year in New Zealand and has long campaigned for better information on water quality and for action to clean up rivers. “Without significant changes in the way we live our lives in work and play we will continue to degrade our waterways,” he says. He’d like local councils to empower swimmers (and other interest groups) to conduct water testing and facilitate the sharing of the results.

It smells to heaven

In late summer 2017, Barry Johnston, a #ChesterFrosties swimmer (a group based in north-west England) was about to swim at a favourite river spot when he was sickened by a foul stench from the water. Closer inspection revealed the “appalling sight of raw sewage floating across the river.” Barry contacted the local paper and they reported on the problem. He also took it up with the local water company and secured a meeting.
It transpires that in certain situations (for example, under extreme rainfall conditions), water companies are allowed to spill sewage into the rivers. What Barry, and many others, would like in the first instance is more information about when this is happening. In the long run, clearly, it would be better to eliminate the discharges. We hope to report more on Barry’s progress in the near future.

A Thames fit for swimming

Waterkeeper, a charity dedicated to challenging polluters and defending rivers in the capital. One of his aims is to have a “Thames fit for swimming”. Theo has done his own water quality testing in various parts of the river and has found that sometimes it meets bathing water standards and at other times it doesn’t.

“The problem,” he says, “is no one knows when they [safe times for swimming] are. People use the river in ignorance, putting their health at risk.”

London Waterkeeper has therefore launched a petition to ask Thames Water to notify the public when its sewers spill into the Thames from the Cotswolds to London.  

If you’re looking for actions that you can take an easy one is to sign the London Waterkeeper petition. Next, be vigilant. If you have a regular river swimming spot, observe how the water looks at different times. If you see anything that shouldn’t be there, inform your local newspaper and water company. Ask for more information about the location of sewage outfalls and when they spill untreated sewage into our rivers.

Polluted rivers aren’t good for anyone, especially swimmers. Take action to identify and reduce river pollution in 2018. You’ll be helping yourself, and the planet.

Find out more and sign the petition:

Simon Griffiths is the founder and publisher of Outdoor Swimmer. Email Simon at: simon@outdoorswimmer.com

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.