Open water swimmer Barry Johnston is delighted after persuading Welsh Water to publish real time information after it dumps sewage in the River Dee so river users can choose to steer clear.
Mr Johnston, from King Street, was about to take a dip by The Groves last September when he was shocked to discover sewage being pumped into the water.
Welsh Water later admitted Chester ’s Victorian sewers, which handle both rain water and sewage, get backed up following a heavy downpour meaning diluted sewage has to be released into the river.
Ideally, Mr Johnston, a qualified environmental scientist, wants investment in new sewers but in the short-run he is pleased Welsh Water has agreed to make sewage discharge information available to river users.
Mr Johnston, who has been supported by Chester MP Chris Matheson , said: “They are beginning to fulfil their long-standing promise to tell in real time, watersports people in the River Dee when it is too full of sewage to be safe to capsize into or swim in.”
He added: “Good news that the public can know this information in real time, rather than a year late, which used to be the case. Also good news that Welsh Water are leading the pack in the UK by actually going public with their potentially embarrassing sewers-overflowing-into-rivers information.”
River users go online and zoom in to the indicator spot for Eccleston , just south of Chester. If it is green, the water is deemed OK, if red, then it is not. Alerts cover a 5km-length between the weir and Eccleston.
But Mr Johnston added: “The less good news, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, just cautious, is concern about accuracy. They are only taking account of sewage going into the river five kilometres upstream.”
“The health risk from this 5km cut-off potentially being too low a distance, means that there could be ‘false greens’; prompting people to enter the water when they should not. Then they might get ill. So, while this latest sewage content info is certainly a toe in the water, there is still more to do.”
He would like the 5km limit to be extended upstream if necessary. He also wants the map to be predictive so people can plan ahead based on rainy weather forecasts.
And Mr Johnston, who is friends with fellow open water swimmer and BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin, would like the concept extended to all fresh water bodies, canals, rivers and lakes where Welsh Water dumps sewage when it rains hard.