River Adur branded a ‘bacterial soup’ as fresh calls made to improve water quality

Councillors from across Adur and Worthing want to see the River Adur become a designated spot for swimming.

Unanimous support was given to a motion for the watercourse to become ‘designated bathing water’ which was put forward during a joint overview and scrutiny committee (JOSC) meeting on Thursday (27 January).

This would give the river a similar status to the area’s beaches and would require it to be regularly sampled and monitored.

If designated, the river would then be given a water quality rating of ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’.

The River Adur at Shoreham

Samples are already taken from the Adur every month and one councillor said he was ‘horrified’ when he saw the results.

“Since the pandemic, I use the River Adur for sailing and I take disabled people out on a regular basis,” said Adur district councillor Andy McGregor (Con, Widewater).

“I see the river being used for swimming or dinghy sailing or stand-up paddleboards and I was horrified when I looked at the data for enteric bacteria.

“People are swimming in this bacterial soup.”

Mr McGregor pointed out that inland water quality is considered ‘poor’ if there are more than 330 bacteria in 100 millilitres of water.

“In August last year, the number was 4,200 bacteria per 100 millilitres,” he said, “and the figures for December were similar.

“In the last five years, measuring every month, it has only been below that 330 figure on four occasions.”

During the meeting, a Southern Water spokesperson said the pollution could come from ‘multiple sources’, adding that they were not aware of any sewage outflows from the company’s system which could be causing the high levels of bacteria.

“There are lots of sources – so this is not necessarily a storm overflow problem,” the spokesperson said.

“Rivers without any storm overflows still have a natural level of change of pathogens within them and there are multiple sources.”

The spokesperson said they would support an application to make the River Adur a bathing water spot.

Councillors also tasked the water company with continuing work on sewer connections for houseboats along the river.

A Southern Water spokesperson said this would be achievable but would have to be a ‘multi-agency effort’.

But Sharon Sluman (Lab, Mash Barn) said the costs to houseboat owners could be ‘prohibitive’.

“I was quite pleased to hear that Southern Water can work with the houseboat residents to install waste pipes to prevent the sewage from impacting water quality,” she said.

“I’m surprised and disappointed that there wasn’t a figure for that because the price point that the residents are talking about is £20,000 and that is very prohibitive.”

The Southern Water spokesperson said they would continue to explore options for connecting the houseboats but they ‘did not have figures’ for installation costs.

Adur and Worthing Councils’ JOSC has no decision making power but it seeks to improve services for residents by influencing those who do.

In this case, the water quality recommendations could be taken to full council or taken up with Southern Water and the Environment Agency.

In August, a spokesperson for the Environment Agency told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the source of the bacteria was unknown.

 “A sample tells us the quality of the water at that specific time, but water can change even over the course of one day,” they said.

“We are therefore unable to say if the bacteria has come specifically from one source.”

An Adur and Worthing Councils spokesperson said that swimming in the river is ‘not recommended’ due to thick mud and a strong tide.

Follow this link to see monthly sampling results for the River Adur: https://www.adur-worthing.gov.uk/media/Media,157702,smxx.pdf