This year’s Glasgow 2018 European Championships are an entirely new, high profile competition that brings together over 4,000 athletes competing across seven sports, with large TV audiences expected. The stakes for the city and the local council are correspondingly high.

But at times in the past Strathclyde Loch has suffered from poor water quality that would fail the strict safety standards required by the International Triathlon Union.

Of particular concern were not only raised levels of bacteriological pollution, but also periodic blooms of blue-green algae, which can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms including vomiting, skin rashes and eye irritation. Over the years the loch, in common with many other freshwater lochs, was regularly closed to water sports when the level of blue-green algae or bacteria exceeded safe levels.

So in the run-up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, when the swimming leg of the triathlon was planned to take place in the loch, water quality scientists from a group of companies including APEM began looking for long-term solutions. Working for North Lanarkshire Council, they first recommended the installation of temporary barriers to isolate the part of the loch used for the triathlon from the rest of the water – creating a ‘loch within a loch.’

Water management barriers in Strathclyde Loch

Impermeable barriers separating the triathlon swim area from the rest of Strathclyde Loch in 2014.

Once levels of microbiological pollution within this swimming enclosure had dropped, a range of chemical treatments were then used to reduce the water borne nutrients, such as phosphorous, that can lead to algal blooms.

At the 2014 games, after a convincing 11 second victory over younger brother Jonathan, gold medallist Alastair Brownlee told reporters: “I thought it was a wonderful course… I was thinking while I was swimming: this is really nice water. Dead clean.”

Since then APEM has continued to advise North Lanarkshire Council on using the loch safely for open water swimming and managed any necessary treatments. The swimming enclosure was successfully recreated in both 2016 and 2017, and is back in place this year for the triathlon at the European Championships.

Heather Webb, APEM’s lead scientist on the project, said: “With such a high profile competition it’s really important that athletes are safe in the water.

“Back in 2014 at the Commonwealth Games both competitors and commentators alike praised the loch as a great place to swim, so we’re aiming for more of the same this time round.”

APEM has worked on water quality for many open water swimming events, including the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games triathlon, the open water swimming marathon at the London Olympics and the swimming leg of the Iron Man UK event.

Triathletes take the plunge at Strathclyde Loch on Thursday August 9th.

Commonwealth Games triathlon swim

Triathletes diving into Strathclyde Loch during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

If you have any queries, please contact Heather Webb, principal aquatic scientist.
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