OK, very cool, now, how much?

Last year John Leyland, the Environment Agency’s chief of staff, said rivers were “not there for human swimming” despite the rising popularity of wild swimming.

Campaigners have pushed for more rivers to be made designated bathing sites to pressure agencies and water companies to clean them up.

A reasonable enough aspiration, that folks should be able to swim in the rivers. But as an aspiration – OK, so how much will this cost? There’s only us folks here to pay those costs of course. So, how much? Af ew million? Sure, get on with it. Hundreds of billions? Fuck off, you can wriggle in the shower a bit instead.

So, how much?

15 thoughts on “OK, very cool, now, how much?”

  1. Still, I like the idea of the Environment Agency saying what natural phenomena are there for. Maybe there is a biblical passage listing them, or something. I suspect he thinks rivers are there to give the Environment Agency something to do.

  2. There are three lakes in my area that are used for open water swimming. The water quality seems OK, I’ve never caught anything swimming in any of them. You have to pay to use them. I would suggest that this covers the cost of keeping them in a useable condition and provides an incentive for those operating them to do so. Are people swimming in rivers because they are free? If so maybe we could designate the Strid a swimming area and let the tight wads swim in there.

  3. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    To the extent that rivers are unfit to swim in because some humans put stuff in rivers that makes rivers unfit to swim in, perhaps said humans putting said stuff that makes rivers unfit to swim in in rivers should meet the costs of making rivers fit to swim in?

  4. Great, so we’ll charge everyone in the country who has a shit then. Or, as it might be, everyone who disconnected to the sewerage system. Which is pretty much what I’m talking about. How much is that going to cost? Is it worth it?

  5. Being able to swim in a river is not the only benefit from the river being clean – you get fish back in the river, it doesn’t stink, it raises the value of riverside property, etc.

    Measuring cost and benefit is a worthwhile thing to do, but we really shouldn’t just assume that wild swimming is the only benefit.

    Does seem to be fashionable at the moment (ie lots of people do it), and that means that the benefit is a benefit to more people – which means the benefit is greater.

    But yeah, some rivers are going to be cheaper than others. Maybe this makes a case that cleaning up the semi-clean rivers to fully clean is more important than cleaning up dirty rivers?

  6. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    A Pigou charge on the externality would encourage some people who dump their shit into rivers to connect to the sewage, or get a septic tank.

    These are not the middle ages, we are no longer living in times when the cost of externality of shitting in rivers is much lower than the cost of dealing with shit in any other way (because in 1400 we had forgotten the Roman technological solution to shit, therefore the cost of all alternatives was infinite, and thereby higher than the cost of shitting in a river).

    Come on Tim, this is both obvious and trivial!

  7. I notice swimmers in our local tidal river, even at this time of year. They mostly appear to be middle- & later-aged women, though one lady in a bikini last summer did remind me a bit of Sandro Botticelli when she emerged from the water! Although there is a sewage farm upstream I assume the water is OK – we see seals occasionally and there are definitely fish, and the kids go crabbing in the summer. At least there isn’t “You Will Not Swim Here, it’s not designated!”

  8. Yep, Pigou tax or similar on polluting rivers is just sensible, if only to align incentives. If rivers need to be cleaner than that to be acceptable for swimming then the swimmers can pay for it. Don’t know why Tim wants the bureaucracy involved in doing any cost-benefit malarkey.

    The real questions I have are: why is bathing the Environment Agency’s business? Do we really need ‘designated bathing sites’ at all? And if these campaigners want to swim there, what’s stopping them? If the police can’t clear an environmental protest, can they really do anything about rogue swimmers?

  9. “Great, so we’ll charge everyone in the country who has a shit then. Or, as it might be, everyone who disconnected to the sewerage system.”

    But such people are not generally shitting “into” rivers, that’s the point of the star-spangled banner, a proper runaway etc.

  10. We all swam in the river when I was a boy. Hence my daughter accusing me of having had a “Famous Five childhood”.

    Lucky old me.

  11. Come to think of it, when I told a young German friend that I’d swum in the Rhine he couldn’t believe it.

  12. Funny that they shut all the pools and people start swimming in natural bodies of water, who’d have guessed.
    I wouldn’t be surprised that drownings were up as well as rivers and lakes are more dangerous than swimming pools, seem to recall seeing more drowning stories in media.

  13. Bloke in the Fourth Reich


    That is generally ill-advised as you are likely to get mashed by a barge. And then arrested for obstructing the barge.

  14. “Funny that they shut all the pools…”

    Are they shutting down swimming pools in your area then BniC? Around our way I’m only aware of one pool being closed and that was due to there being a new leisure centre with a bigger and more modern pool opening nearby.

  15. @Tim Worstall – “so we’ll charge everyone in the country who has a shit then”

    We already do. The bills from water companies have charges for both supply and removal. If you don’t use their removal services (you’re not connected to their sewage system) you get that part of the bill removed.

    The pollution in rivers is not coming from individuals – it’s coming from the sewage disposal facilities which overflow when it is too inconvenient for them to do what they are paid for.

    But in any case, there are increasing numbers of people wild swimming in rivers who don’t care that the water does not meet particular standards. There’s no epidemic of diseases caught from it either. However there used to be cholera epidemics when sewage handling was minimal, and it’s quite appropriate to avoid returning to that sort of situation by ensuiring that sewage processing is done properly. Thought that’s not an issue about swimming.

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