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Lack of infrastructure blamed for fall in beach water quality

Lack of storm pollution infrastructure has been blamed for a steep decline in beach water quality results that were announced last week.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said that the number of UK bathing beaches it recommended for excellent water quality had dropped 16.5% this year according to its annual Good Beach Guide.

In total, 370 (47.5%) UK beaches this year received the accolade out of 777 tested, compared to 444 last year. This is the biggest year-on-year fall in the guide’s 22 year history.

The MCS blamed the steep drop on a combination of flood water mixed with sewage gushing from combined sewer overflows and polluted storm water running off into rivers and the sea.

MCS coastal pollution officer Thomas Bell said: “Today’s results reflect last summer’s heavy rain which swept waterborne pollutants like raw sewage, petro-chemicals and farm waste into rivers and the sea …we’re becoming concerned that the existing infrastructure for handling storm pollution may not be up to the job.”

MSC added that counter pollution measures needed to be implemented to combat these problems – including investment in sustainable urban drainage systems and expansion of sewer systems to cope with increased volumes of storm water.

The beaches were tested during May to September 2008, which coincided with the seventh wettest British summer on record.

Readers' comments (5)

  • "expansion off sewer systems to cope with increased volumes of storm water" – may not be needed if the former are done properly or if above ground storage is considered.

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  • Richard R

    "The seventh wettest British summer on record" Surely this is the sole reason for the decrease in the amount of beaches passing excellent water quality standards. CSOs can only be designed for specific events and as such there is no guarantee that they will never discharge unsatisfactorily. It is interesting to note that there were still 47.5% of beaches reaching this standard, down from 57% (444/777), which is only a 9.5% decrease on the total amount tested.

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  • Richard Roberts misses the point.
    CSOs are normally designed to spill at say Formula 'A' pass forward flow with the priority to prevent surcharging of downstream sewers and consequent combined sewer flooding.
    If the excess storm flow is consented by the Environment Agency to spill to a bathing water, then during the 20 week bathing season if the weekly test coincides with the spill, the bathing water will fail. A hit and miss situatuion when three spills a bathing season may well be the present consent standard.
    With Ofwat preferring combined sewerage systems to be designed for a 30 year return event, then to prevent bathing water pollution, CSO spills should be to underground storage as in the example of the Brighton tunnel and the proposed Thames Tideway tunnel.
    With David Rooke stating that the Agency is examining the water companies' latest spending plans, I look forward to a considered article in a future nce, and the Institution to take a lead.

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  • Richard R

    I concur. I was just trying to point out that the wet summer did not provide any figures that were particularly unexpected in light of the fact that it was the seventh wettest summer in nearly a century. I was not disputing the fact that a lot of CSOs will require upgrading, which will result in spills being designed to be sent to temporary storage tanks.

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  • Richard R

    My original comment was misleading. I meant to say that whilst CSOs (UIDs) are spilling at particular storm events, the increase in spill volumes as a result of an unusually wet summer did not appear to be causing reductions in beach quality any more than would be expected. I was attempting to look at the statistics positively. I fully support any measures required to increase the quality of beaches with the removal of UIDs by whatever means necessary.

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