AS the water bathing season gets under way, concerns have been raised over the quality of the water in the River Chew – with one local environmentalist insisting he will not swim there.

The bathing season began on 15th May, with monitoring by the Environment Agency now under way at designated bathing sites.

Data from The River’s Trust shows that sewer storm overflow spilled into the River Chew 100 times - for a total of 1,423.75 hours - in 2022. 

East Harptree resident and Environmentalist Steve Thomas has insisted that, due to pollution concerns, he will not swim in the River Chew, or encourage others to do so. He blamed a struggling sewerage system, and says that another housing estate is due to be built, which will heap further pressure on the system. 

Mr Thomas said: “The sewerage system was built in the 1980s for a much smaller population. Since then, the community has grown significantly, we have already had two housing estates built. There are plans to build more housing in the area which would still further overload the existing system.

“I was alerted to the issues with the water systems in the Chew Valley last year, when some of my daughter’s friends went swimming in a local river and came out with rashes.”

East Harptree Parish Council echoed the concerns, saying: "East Harptree Parish Council is committed to working in whatever ways it can to combat the Climate and Nature Emergency; protecting the environment is high on its list of priorities. We would be very concerned if the operation of the current system resulted in discharges causing harm to the river. We are ready to work with stakeholders to ensure our natural environment can be in a state that is fit for wildlife and residents now, and for future generations."

Georgie Duckworth runs Go Wild Go West, a blog site with suggestions of outdoor activities in Somerset and beyond. As an avid wild swimmer, the water quality is a concern for her and her family.

"The spilling of waste from sewer storm overflow systems used by companies such as Wessex Water into our waterways, including the River Chew, puts the health and safety of the river's recreational users, like wild swimmers, and its wildlife at risk."

"I'd like to live in a world where I can visit our local river with my children and be able to swim and enjoy the waters knowing that they're safe and clean rather than worrying about what has been released in there. These water companies have a duty to manage waste responsibly, and they are woefully lacking. It's not just wild swimmers like me that are impacted here, water from our rivers feed through to the lakes and reservoirs that ultimately becomes our drinking water."

Wessex Water said: “Wild swimmers will be aware that there are numerous sources of bacteria in rivers, from wildlife and agricultural run-off as well as regulated overflows and treated sewage discharges.

“Wessex Water is committed to eliminating untreated sewage discharges and, if approved by our regulators, we’ll be tripling investment from £3 million per month to £9 million to tackle storm over-flows and minimise any environmental impact.

“Environment Agency data shows that storm overflows account for less than one per cent of the reasons why rivers in the Wessex Water region don’t achieve good ecological status.”

The Bristol Avon Rivers' Trust (BART) are committed to improving the status of water bodies in our area. They were able to provide more information on polluting factors affecting the River Chew.

river chew

CEO Simon Hunter said, "The Chew is failing to reach good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive as a result of a number of failures which can be seen above."

"Therefore, the water industry is just one of a number of issue impacting water quality in the River Chew."

For further information regarding the quality of water in the Chew Valley, click here.