Bathing season isn’t a washout

Posted: Wednesday 21st November 2007

Nearly 98% of bathing waters in England this year met the water quality standards required by law, despite the wettest summer since records began.

405 out of the 414 bathing water sites in England monitored by the Environment Agency met the ‘mandatory’ standard demanded under the Bathing Water Directive, a compliance rate of 97.8%. The much tighter ‘guideline’ standard was met by 72.5% of monitored waters.

Bathing water quality has increased steadily in recent years. In 1997, 88% of waters met the mandatory standard, and 35% met the guideline standard. In 2006 this had risen to 99.5% and 75% respectively.

The slight drop in levels this year is likely to be due to the exceptional rainfall over the summer. Heavy rainfall can temporarily affect bathing water quality as the flow of water washes pollution into coastal waters and rivers through the sewage network, and increases run-off from farmland and urban streets. Water quality affected in this way usually returns to its normal condition after the rain subsides.

Environment Minister Phil Woolas said: “We achieved our best ever levels of bathing water quality last summer, and this year standards are still high despite the exceptionally wet weather. Although compliance has dropped slightly, we know the likely cause. Overall, the direction of travel is clear – bathing water in England is getting better, and that’s good news for everyone who lives here and all those who visit our coasts.

“Increased investment by water companies since the 1990s to improve the sewage network has played a major part in making this happen. We are now much more resilient to the effects of wet weather than we have been in the past.

“We must go further though, to prepare for the more stringent bathing water quality standards which come into effect by 2015. To meet these we will be taking measures to upgrade the sewerage infrastructure and tackle diffuse water pollution from farming and urban sources. Better public information will also be provided, to give bathers a fuller picture of the water quality expected at each bathing site.”

Environment Agency Chief Executive Barbara Young said: "We've seen an extraordinary amount of rainfall this past summer, and as a result a temporary increase in the amount of pollution atsome bathing waters - because of run-off from farmland and storm overflows in the sewerage system.

“Water quality is still much better than we were seeing 15 years ago, but if we want to see this continue we all need to be ready to cope with these rainfall events, which are likely to become even more frequent with climate change. Water companies need to climate-proof their sewerage systems and we're here to help farmers reduce pollution too."

A consultation outlining Defra’s proposals for the implementation of the revised Bathing Water Directive was published on 12 November. The new Directive will update the way in which water quality is measured and will use four new classification categories: poor, sufficient, good and excellent. It will also require specific bathing water information to be provided to the public, both on signage at beaches and online.

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