Bathing spots cleanest ever

Only six bathing areas failed to pass water standards this year, with a record 476 bathing spots clean enough to meet EU regulations. Bathing waters in Wales, Anglian and Thames regions were the cleanest. But diffuse sources of pollution, such as farm run-off, continue to contaminate river water.

With 99% of all bathing waters in England and Wales meeting mandatory requirements, a record 78% of those also met stricter advisory guidelines specifying lower levels of faecal streptococci permitted in the water – up from 60% last year.

“The excellent results on bathing water quality reflect the £2 billion or so already invested by water companies, funded by customers, to improve discharges from sewage treatment works and sewerage systems,” says Environment Agency Chief Executive Barbara Young.

All waters achieved mandatory levels of cleanliness, determined by the level of faecal and total coliforms in the water – bacteria from animal waste and sewage.

But a fifth failed to meet aspirational targets set by the EU, says Rob Moore, senior assessor at the Agency, although the tighter standards require a huge jump in lowering the microbial content.

“What we’re facing now is the impact of diffuse pollution,” Moore told edie. Farm run-off spilling into river waters, which then mix with bathing waters, remains a key source of faecal contamination. Diffuse pollution is a problem area to be tackled by the impending Water Framework Directive (see related story), but pollutants can be traced to their source using faecal indicators, says Moore.

“Through monitoring work we can target specific streams with high microbial loading,” says Moore. The Agency surveys adjacent farmland and where necessary, inspects farmers’ waste handling facilities to ensure they have sufficient capacity in their storage tanks, an adequate system for separating clean and dirty water and enough land to spread their manure on. Under the Water Framework Directive, the Agency will be monitoring whole catchment areas, which will provide more opportunities for identifying problems, says Moore.

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