AI tracks water quality at wild swim spot

Image: Sacha T'Sas on Unsplash

Artificial intelligence (AI) is monitoring water quality at a popular wild swimming spot, in a first for the UK.

Wessex Water has been carrying out a pioneering bathing water investigation at Warleigh Weir, near Bath, Somerset, since April 2021, supported by the Rivers Trust, Environment Agency and landowner Jonny Palmer.

AI provider UnifAI Technology has now developed the UK's first AI-powered web application that gives users water quality information against bathing water quality standards from the government department for the environment, Defra.

The app shows data collected by sensors at sample points every 30 minutes and uses algorithms to give half-hourly predictions on bacteria levels in the River Avon. Though still in the development phase, current testing shows the algorithm to be 90% accurate when compared to laboratory samples.

"We want to help the increasing number of wild swimmers and recreational river users make an informed choice."

Ruth Barden, Wessex Water

As well as bacteria levels, the app shows four other parameters that could be of interest to swimmers – temperature, water level, water flow and rainfall. The temperature parameter is based on Outdoor Swimming Society advice that water below 15 degrees can risk cold water shock.

Ruth Barden, Wessex Water’s director of environmental solutions, said, "This WebApp is potentially a major breakthrough, giving people near real-time information about river water before they decide whether or not to swim.

"Bacteria will always be present in rivers due to wildlife, run-off from agricultural land, regulated storm overflows and treated sewage discharges but we want to help the increasing number of wild swimmers and recreational river users make an informed choice."

Wessex Water is committed to progressively eliminating storm overflows, which sometimes operate during intense rainfall. The company is investing £3 million every month to reduce them, while also calling on the government to change legislation that currently allows housing developers and property owners to connect surface water to combined sewers.