River water quality at Saltford - Saltford Parish Council

The river in Saltford has storm overflows where untreated raw sewage enters the river directly. There are four storm drains that feed into the River Avon in Saltford i.e. where raw sewage directly enters the river. Storm overflows are safety valves built into the combined sewer system to discharge excess sewage to rivers. The quality of river water in Saltford is not tested by the Environment Agency (as it is not a designated bathing area).

Records show that in 2020 the storm overflow near Kelston Weir (near the marinas / boat clubs) in Saltford spilled 94 times into the River Avon in Saltford for a total of 150hrs. A second storm overflow on The Shallows near under the cycle path bridge spilled 62 times for a total of 68hrs into the River Avon at Saltford. There are two further storm overflows spilling into the river at Saltford.

If entering the river avoid swallowing or splashing water into your mouth. If intending to use the river for recreational purposes, please be aware that the sewerage network discharges treated sewage and overflows of untreated sewage into the River Avon at Saltford. If you become unwell after entering the water at Saltford, call 111 or visit www.nhs.uk to seek medical help.

Sewage enters the river in Saltford via four storm overflows two of which are by the weirs. The Rivers Trust map gives further information about storm drain locations. It is advised to avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges.

Saltford Parish Council is not responsible for the quality of water at the River Avon in Saltford. For user awareness, there have been several reports of children and young people becoming ill following swimming in the River Avon in Saltford. In 2018, a 12 year old child was placed in isolation for three nights at Bristol Children’s Hospital after swimming in the river at Saltford. Symptoms reported include vomiting, diarrhoea, and severe dehydration.

A sewage water treatment plant for the Bath and wider area is located in Mead Lane, Saltford.

To find out about river water quality in Saltford please use this BART interactive map (more information below), or The Rivers Trust ‘Is my river fit to play in’ map. The Rivers Trust advise as follows: Avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges and avoid the overflows (brown circles), especially after it has been raining.

Environment Agency

Due to concerns about the impact of water quality on public health, when approached by Saltford Parish Council about storm overflows in 2020, the Environment Agency stated that it does not test water quality at Saltford Weir as it is not a designated bathing area.

Wessex Water & storm overflows in Saltford

Wessex Water shared in December 2021 their ‘Storm Overflows: Why they exist and what impact they have‘ publication. For more information from Wessex Water about storm overflows please contact: Wessex Water Claverton Down, Bath BA27WW; operational.enquiries@wessexwater.co.uk; 0345 600 4 600

In May 2022, Wessex Water shared the link to their ‘Storm Overflows’ webpage which details their Storm Overflows Improvement Plan which will see every overflow in the region monitored by 2023, and by 2025, the number of hours storm overflows discharge reduced by 25%. In a message accompanying the link, Wessex Water stated ‘We understand the concerns about storm overflows and agree they should have no place in a 21st century sewerage system. This major investment is the start of decisive action to tackle storm overflows, and our longer term improvement plan sets out the further progress we will make over the coming years. We have 1,300 overflows across the Wessex Water region, so it will take time and significant resources to eliminate them. By committing to spend £3 million every month on overflows, starting with those that discharge most frequently and those that have any environmental impact, we will make a good start.’

Further to storm overflows, a sewage treatment works (Saltford Water Recycling Centre) is located close to Saltford Weir. A spokesman for the Environment Agency said in 2018 that discharge from the sewage treatment works run downstream away from its location.

When approached for comment in autumn 2020, B&NES Council informed Saltford Parish Council that combined sewer overflows – better known as storm overflows – protect properties from flooding by acting as relief valves for a mix of rainwater and foul sewage water. It also provided SPC with a copy of a document produced by Wessex Water named ‘Our sewer system and storm overflows‘.

BART’s annual river water testing in Saltford

The Bristol Avon Rivers Trust (BART) runs an annual WaterBlitz event each summer where volunteers on behalf of BART aim to collect as many samples from the rivers, streams and lakes of the Bristol Avon catchment. This helps to gain a snapshot of water quality. Saltford Parish Council helps to publicise this initiative. BART supplies free water testing kits to volunteers which will measure nutrient levels in a water sample taken from a chosen waterbody. In high concentrations nutrients can impact the local wildlife which depends on a healthy river. The presence of these nutrients may indicate a pollution event nearby or ongoing issues from land management, sewage outfalls or urban pressures. The results help BART target their ongoing conservation work. To see results from WaterBlitz events please visit BART’s interactive WaterBlitz map.

B&NES Council resolution: ‘Cleaning up our rivers’

At their March 25 2022 meeting, B&NES Council’s Cabinet unanimously resolved under item 134 ‘Cleaning up our rivers’ the following:

Council notes:

  1. The recent report of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee
    (Jan 2022) which found that rivers in England are in a mess: “a ‘chemical
    cocktail’ of sewage, agricultural waste, and plastic is polluting the waters of
    many of the country’s rivers”.
  2. That only 12% of the Bristol Avon catchment is classified as having ‘good
    ecological status’ with the main sources of pollution being treated sewage
    discharges and diffuse pollution from farming and land management.
  3. That rivers in B&NES are an irreplaceable asset for both people and nature,
    enjoyed by many for recreation and leisure, and part of the rich landscape
    character and natural capital of our area.
  4. That Bath and North East Somerset Council is a member of the Bristol Avon
    Catchment Partnership which includes Wessex Water, the Environment
    Agency and Wiltshire Council and is working closely with partners to identify
    and deliver collaborative solutions to improve water quality and improve the
    water environment for people and wildlife.
  5. That not all properties in B&NES are connected to the public sewage system
    or to private sewers and that some continue to discharge wastewater straight
    into the river or into non-compliant, polluting soakaways.
  6. That Government funding to the Environment Agency to monitor river quality
    and regulate sources of pollution has dropped by 75% in the last decade.

Council believes:

  1. That cleaning up our rivers is important for public health and to protect and
    enhance wildlife, and that this requires the involvement of a wide range of
    stakeholders including water companies, farmers, land-owners, developers
    and businesses.
  2. That investment in our sewerage system must be accelerated so that
    discharges of untreated sewage, including from storm overflows, cease.
  3. That farmers and land managers have a responsibility to monitor and reduce
    the flow of pollutants (including nutrients and pesticides) from their land into
  4. That government must provide the funding and powers to enable more
    effective monitoring and enforcement by water regulators; OFWAT and the
    Environment Agency.
  5. That water companies must continue to improve the public information they
    provide on sewage discharges to ensure that it is accessible and as close to
    real time as possible.
  6. That developers and property owners have a role to play in reducing surface
    water from entering the combined sewer system. Installing sustainable urban
    drainage systems (SUDS), both in new buildings and through retrofitting, and
    reducing ‘urban creep’ can help to reduce the load on our sewerage system.
  7. That government must legislate to ban the sale of non-degradable and plastic
    containing wet wipes which are a major cause of blockages and capacity
    issues in the sewer network. The incorrect disposal of fats, oils and greases is
    also a cause of blockages.
  8. That the capacity of environmental infrastructure (including sewerage
    systems) must be sufficient to support new housing development and that
    water companies must engage with local authorities in the preparation of new
    drainage and sewerage plans.
  9. That the Council has a role to play in educating and raising awareness of the
    many individual behavioural changes that citizens can make to lessen their
    impact on water pollution and harm to the water environment.

Council therefore resolves:

  1. To write to Government Ministers to ask that they:
    a. Restore funding to the Environment Agency to ensure a stronger
    regulatory regime for river water quality that delivers year on year
    b. Increase funding for Catchment Partnerships so that they can do more
    to engage all partners in the actions needed to improve river water
    c. Strengthen the legal obligations and powers available to water
    companies to contribute to improving river water quality.
    d. Ban the sale of non-degradable and plastic containing wet wipes as a
    major cause of blockages in the sewage system.
    e. Introduce incentives for the introduction of SUDS through new build
    development and retrofitting.
  2. Work with our partners Wessex Water to:
    a. Accelerate their plan to reduce the environmental and health impacts of
    discharges from the sewage system, including improving monitoring
    and information available to the public;
    b. Ensure that all properties in B&NES are connected to the mains
    sewage system, have a compliant treatment system or a septic tank,
    and that all developers are aware of their obligations;
    c. Identify opportunities for the installation of community-level SUDS that
    can help to reduce the load on the combined sewer network;
    d. Engage residents to avoid the use of disposable wet wipes and
    communicate wider messages about only flushing the three P’s (pee,
    poo and paper) down the toilet.
  3. To continue to support the work of the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership to
    engage all riparian landowners, including farmers, and local communities in
    an action plan to tackle pollution and improve river water quality.
  4. To refer the topic of cleaning up our rivers to the Climate Emergency and
    Sustainability Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel for their further
    consideration and monitoring.
  5. Through the planning system:
    a. encourage the use of SUDS to deal with surface water and reduce the
    amount of water going into combined sewers;
    b. explore opportunities through the new Local Plan to reduce ‘urban
    creep’ and to avoid or mitigate pollution from intensive farming within
    catchment areas.

SPC requests B&NES Council takes responsibility for a safer cleaner river and river side

Saltford Parish Council resolved at its Full Council meeting in February 2023 to request B&NES Council to take responsibility for a safer, cleaner river for users and wildlife. B&NES Council is the riparian owner of the river bank in Saltford, and as such SPC views the litter on the river bank and pollution caused by sunken boats attached to B&NES Council owned land as B&NES Council’s responsibility to address. A copy of SPC’s request to B&NES Council can be found here and below.

Please also see SPC’s news article ‘SPC requests B&NES Council takes responsibility for a safer cleaner river (inc river bank)’ published in February 2023.

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