Tough action to protect England’s beaches and £3.6bn seaside economy

Posted: Thursday 22nd May 2014

Final year for beaches to meet new water quality standards which are twice as strict.

As families flock to the seaside this bank holiday weekend, the Environment Agency has started its annual water quality tests at England’s beaches.

Over 400 beaches and inland bathing sites are tested every week between May and September. Improvements this year will help more beaches to pass new water quality standards.

Next year England will have water quality targets that are almost twice as stringent, but thanks to work over two decades to prevent pollution ending up in the sea, 9 out of 10 English beaches are already meeting the standard.

But while over 90 percent are predicted to pass, around 40 beaches along the English coast are currently at risk of failure. The new EU law means that local authorities would need to display a sign advising against swimming for those that do not pass the new standard.

Bathing water quality has improved dramatically over the last two decades as pollution has been tackled. But some pollution still remains, due to agriculture, sewage overflows, animal and bird faeces at beaches and households and businesses with badly connected drainage.

In some areas of the country as many as 1 in 5 homes have their drains misconnected, meaning sewage is unintentionally being flushed into rivers and ending up on beaches. Water companies, local authorities and the Environment Agency are working to repair misconnected drains.

Paul Hickey, Deputy Director of Water Quality at the Environment Agency said:

“The seaside economy in England is worth around £3.6 bn each year – and every improvement in bathing water quality helps to protect that. With one year to go until the new EU standards come into effect, the Environment Agency and partner organisations are focusing efforts on the small number of problem sites to bring them up to standard.

“Meeting tough new water quality targets has been a huge challenge, and local authorities, water companies, farmers, homeowners and businesses all have important parts to play in protecting and improving bathing water quality at the remaining beaches that are not yet up to scratch.”

Environment Agency water quality sampling teams will be out taking a total of 8,400 samples at over 400 bathing sites between now and September. Information on bathing water quality is available online on the Bathing Water Data Explorer and includes a pollution forecasting system for bathing waters, which predicts risk to bathing water quality daily during the bathing season, allowing the public to make more informed decisions about where to swim. A freely available mobile phone app called Beach Selecta allows access to bathing water information on the move.

The Environment Agency’s role is to improve water quality, it works with local authorities, industry, farmers and water companies to take action to reduce pollution.

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