COMMUNITIES along the Wharfe Valley are teaming up to support a major study of river water quality.

The Ilkley Clean River Group was formed to draw attention to the problem of untreated sewage being discharged into the River Wharfe at Ilkley, from the Ashlands Sewage Treatment Works.

But now the group (ICRG) - which is trying to get bathing water status for the river - has widened its scope to lead a bid to improve water quality along the length of the Wharfe, from Oughtershaw to the Ouse.

The iWHARFE project aims to build on the research the group carried out for its Ashlands scheme by collecting water samples from spots along the river for analysis.

The multi-agency scheme will see the ICRG working with lots of other groups including The Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, Addingham Environment Group, Otley 2030, Otley Angling Club, Boston Spa, Wetherby & Villages Community Green Group, the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and the Wild Trout Trust.

Professor Rick Battarbee, who is coordinating the effort, described it as ‘a citizen science project involving members of local communities along the valley working together with the Environment Agency and with Yorkshire Water’.

He said: “We will collect water samples to be analysed by specialist laboratories for faecal indicator organisms and for nutrient chemistry. Whereas faecal indicator data will allow us to assess water quality with respect to human health, nutrient chemistry data will allow us to assess water quality with respect to ecological health.

“The results will provide a snapshot of water quality conditions on a single day. It will raise awareness about the health of the entire river and it will help us understand better the relative roles of agricultural land management and wastewater treatment in determining whether the river is fit to swim in, and/or fit for wildlife, at different points.”

The costs of the project are estimated to be £21,874 for ‘year 1’, though iWHARFE is set to receive contributions in kind that are equivalent to about £11,348.

Otley Town Council is backing the initiative and has agreed to contribute towards the costs.

Chair Councillor Richard Hughes (Lib Dem, West Chevin) said: “The Wharfe River is the jewel in Otley’s crown. Looking after it is not only environmentally responsible but makes economic sense as we promote Otley as a great place to visit."

“The Town Council is delighted to have been able to make a contribution to the iWharfe project and looks forward to its results.” Councillor Mick Bradley (Green, Danefield) added: “Given the numbers of people swimming and paddling in the river over the past few months, with swimming pools closed, it’s important that the water quality is monitored and improved.”