Summer 2021 - Issue 164
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Sewage in the Canal

Alan Willcocks wrote to the Barrow Voice with his concerns about water quality in the River Soar and canal and the possible dangers of being in the water rather than on it.  The short (and very amateur) videos I took on my phone show people enjoying both leisurely and more active exercise on top of the water and children having fun splashing around in the water by Barrow Deep Lock.  Many people enjoy a cold ‘wild’ swim in the river, others have said they wouldn’t go near it.  The Environment Agency told the Barrow Voice that: “We monitor designated bathing areas - the only one in the East Midlands is at Colwick Park, near Nottingham” and they recommend that you check their website for details:

Here’s what Alan wrote:

With summer coming it is not surprising that the prospect of using the river and canal in this village are seen as offering a free opportunity to cool off with a bout of wild swimming or paddling.

 Recently, my attention has been drawn to headlines in national newspapers, for example: “raw sewage spilling out 1000 times a day”. (This does not refer directly to Barrow upon Soar). The article cited population growth and climate change putting pressure on the country’s waste infrastructure to produce 400,000 spillages into rivers and seas in 2020. There are several articles along these lines, for example: “every river in England is polluted, according to government figures’’. The spillage problem is due to combined sewer overflows (CSOs) discharging into the rivers and canals in excess of their design capability when a sewer is overloaded with sewage, storm water or both and is particularly prevalent at times of high rainfall.

 CSOs are not the only source of river pollution; fully treated sewage effluent is highly toxic containing organic and inorganic contaminants along with bacteria and viruses. No sewage treatment is designed to remove pathogens.

During the summer, the popular time for wild swimming, at low flow, the river Soar is comprised of over 60% of sewage effluent* from Leicester and places south of Leicester (River Soar flows from the Leicester direction) giving a high risk of infection.

  The Clean Rivers Trust lists a number of biological hazards resulting from raw sewage discharge into rivers and canals; Weil’s disease, Cryptosporidisis, E.coli, Hepatitis A & C and Botulism ( see Clean Rivers Trust: Waterborne illnesses: UK rivers) with effects on human health ranging from mild to severe illness and death.

Are there CSOs discharging into the river and canal running through this village? Yes, and more house building will increase the problem without a functional uplift in the waste system.

The responsibility for ensuring improvement lies with the Environment Agency which says: ‘’we are working actively with the water companies to ensure overflows are properly controlled and the harm they do to the environment is stopped’’. No rivers are designated for bathing but if you are considering this you could consult the Outdoor Swimming Society website

Those attracted to outdoor swimming may also consider using an outdoor public pool. The only lido I am aware of in Leicestershire is at Ashby’s Hood Park Leisure Centre which has two pools: 30 x 10m and 10 x 6m.  

 Pollution of the river and canal here is not new. When I was a youngster living in Barrow in the 1960s we were aware of industrial pollution which resulted in foam whipped up by the weir in such amounts that it could blow onto Martin Avenue or in the opposite direction across the meadows onto the footpath and the One Man bridge towards Mountsorrel. This has now stopped but there is another type of invisible pollution. 

I am grateful for professional advice from John Upton in writing this article.

Alan Willcocks

Further background information about swimming in open waters is available here:


*Neither the Environment Agency nor Severn Trent could find statistical evidence for this when the Barrow Voice contacted them for comment. 

Barrow Voice is published by Barrow upon Soar Community Association.(BUSCA) Opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed by the editorial committee or the Community Association.

Barrow Community Association is a registered Charity No: 1156170.

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