MORE than 90% of England’s bathing waters meet the minimum European water quality standard with 58% complying with the tighter guideline standard following one of the wettest summers on record.
However, latest figures from Defra reveal that a number of bathing water sites failed to meet the required standards as some waters remain vulnerable to the effects of very heavy rainfall as pollution is washed from cities and rural areas into rivers and streams.
Water UK, which represents the major UK water and wastewater service suppliers, commented: “As scientists from the Met Office, the Environment Agency and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have pointed out, in the past few months we have had the weirdest weather for a century. Months of dry weather, leading to drought in some areas, was almost immediately followed by some of the wettest weather on record. The dry, hard earth couldn’t absorb the rainwater, and so much of that water rushed away through drains that went from empty to overflowing, sometimes in a matter of hours.
“CSOs, or combined sewer overflows, are designed to ensure that when such extremely heavy rain happens, properties are protected from sewer flooding – one of the most unpleasant things that can happen to your home. The rainwater that goes through the CSOs and out to sea is given some treatment but does not receive full treatment.”
However, CSOs are just one influence on bathing water quality. The heavy rain also fell on dry agricultural land, taking with it the bacteria contained in farmyard manures from cattle, sheep, pigs and horses. In the urban environment, after heavy rain, contamination from animal waste and bird droppings can also be washed away. These, together with animals on beaches, private sewage works, boats and shipping, and drains that have been misconnected to surface water sewers, can also compromise bathing water quality.
A spokesman at Water UK went on: “The water industry is certainly not complacent about CSOs and will be looking at these results to see what can be learned for the future. Nevertheless, CSOs are a vital part of the network, a way of ensuring that homeowners are less at risk of sewer flooding. As with so many things, the use of CSOs must also be balanced with the amount of money it would cost to change the current system.”
The organisation said it will work with Defra, the Environment Agency and the Met Office on ways to achieve better forecasting to help plan for the future. “This may be an exceptionally strange run of weather – or these intense periods of dry, wet and cold weather may be becoming the new normal.”