A COUPLE who live on the banks of the River Tavy have written to their MP asking that laws on pollution be tightened up.

They see the normally clear waters turn milky regularly and smell and see white foam forming in the shallows as far as Abbey Bridge.

The pair were prompted to write Geoffrey Cox (MP for Torridge and West Devon) after seeing children swimming in the hot weather in the milky waters.

David and Dawn Mason, former publicans, live in Westbridge Cottages in Tavistock and the Tavy runs alongside their garden, so they monitor it carefully.

David said: ‘I’ve always taken notice of the river and its health because I care about the environment. So, I notice it’s been polluted more and more in recent years. The hot weather doesn’t help this either because it’s shallower and flows more slowly than in the winter when it comes up about 12 feet into our garden.

‘I got really concerned enough to write to Geoffrey Cox when I saw the children playing and swimming in the river when it was all milky. That worries us because children could get ill. Visitors on holiday don’t probably think about the pollution.’

David does not allow their dog Bella to swim or drink the water because he’s been ill: ‘We used to see kingfishers a lot using the low hanging branches as perches, but they’re quite rare now and there’s very little fish life. I’ve asked Mr Cox to take real action to stop water companies discharging effluent when it’s not necessary.

We’ve been told the discharges only happen after heavy rain to stop flooding when the drainage system is overwhelmed by surface water. But there’s no excuse for it now as there’s been no rain for several weeks.’

Mr Cox, he said, had voted against a bill in Parliament which would have restricted effluent discharges into rivers by water companies.

Tavistock town councillor Neil Martin (Green Party) said: ‘There are several reasons for rivers to exhibit unnatural smells and discolouration including algal blooms, sewage, farming and industrial activities.

Lower rivers will struggle to disperse pollution. It’s in everyone’s interest to manage water use and waste, to protect our natural environment.’

An Environment Agency (EA) spokesperson said the pollution was caused by the repair work on the town’s Market Road river wall under a Flood Risk Activity Permit issued by the EA: ‘We’ve had a small number of pollution reports. The milky appearance of the river is temporarily caused by rock dust remnants in the washed quarry stone being used, which is more noticeable during periods of low flow. ‘Although the dust does not adversely impact aquatic life or river oxygen levels, we are in dialogue with the contractors and have put pollution prevention measures and monitoring in place.’

Sir Geoffrey Cox, Torridge and West Devon MP, said ‘Discharges of treated effluent into the River Tavy by the Tavistock Sewage Treatment works have been permitted by licence from the EA under stringent standards. This Government has introduced the toughest legal measures ever imposed on water companies.’

This allows courts to levy unlimited fines for excessive and unlawful discharges and mandatory annual targets for reducing all discharges. All discharge outlets in England must be monitored and published. He said the Tavy is tested by the EA and its most recent reports show it was ‘good’ overall with the lower Tavy in ecologically moderate or fair condition and in good condition for fish and other biological factors.

Sir Geoffrey said he met the CEO of SWW regularly to hold it to account for, its performance in improving water quality and reducing discharges and talked to Ofwat and the EA, which enforces these measures: ‘I strongly support the very tough measures adopted by this Government to improve our inland and coastal waters and will have no hesitation in backing even tougher measures if these do not produce results.’

A SWW spokesman said: ‘Teams visited the location of where the reports were from on Friday (9 June) and did not find anything indicating a problem with our infrastructure. On attendance, the teams found the surface water outfall discharging clean water and carried out sample testing to confirm findings. We only have one surface water outfall at Abbey Bridge and no overflows along the river, either up or downstream. We’re also not aware of any other issues with our infrastructure in this area. Pollution can be reported on 0800 807060.