SCOTLAND: 1999 a good year for bathing water, but SEPA still wants sewage discharge reductions

The Scottish EPA (SEPA) admits that 1999 was a good year for bathing water quality, but says that longer-term trends show compliance with the highest EU standards has not improved since record-keeping began in 1988.

SEPA is pleased that 88% of Scotland’s 60 official bathing waters – those subject to the EU’s Bathing Water Directive standards – passed mandatory standards in 1999, with a further 43% also passing the higher ‘guideline’ standards.

Nonetheless, SEPA isn’t hiding the fact that weather patterns during summer 1999 made meeting bathing water regulations easier – fewer storms than in 1998 and therefore fewer sewage discharges via combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

“In overall terms, there has not been any improvement in compliance with the guideline values … since 1988,” states Scottish Bathing Waters: Bathing water quality results for 1999.

Western Scotland is a particular concern. Even with 1999’s favourable weather, almost a quarter of its 16 official beaches failed to pass the mandatory standards and none of them passed the higher guideline standards.

Reasons given by SEPA for the poor performance of the western region include spills from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) during high rainfall and agricultural run-off. According to the SEPA report, “Ettrick Bay failed to achieve a mandatory pass,” even though “there are no significant sewage discharges in the vicinity of the bathing beach.” The land around Ettrick Bay is mainly agricultural, and SEPA suspects agricultural contamination via three local streams. Some extremely high counts were recorded; up to 93,000 faecal coliforms per 100ml, compared with the mandatory standard of 2000 faecal coliforms for 95% of samples.

SEPA has been careful not to blame West of Scotland Water for failures at Turnberry and Ayr (South Beach). At Turnberry, a private sewage discharge has been blamed and a new disposal system ordered for this year. The only beach in west Scotland where consistent failures have been directly blamed on the sewerage network is Irvine-Gailes beach.

SEPA clearly wants to see considerable improvement across the country in coming years and despite sewerage improvements in some areas “sewage effluent is, by far, the main cause of polluted coastal waters in Scotland,” concludes the report. “Thus, SEPA must continue to work closely with the Water Authorities to ensure that their planned investment programme maximises benefits to the environment and that any new schemes and modified discharges are designed to achieve the Bathing Water Directive’s guideline values.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed the publication of the 4th annual bathing quality report and took the opportunity to criticise the low number of areas given ‘official’ bathing water status. “There are still more beaches which should be on the official list, including important seaside areas like Largs, Helensburgh, Seamill [West Kilbride] and Broughty Ferry,” said FoE Scotland.

Adding to the list of ‘official’ bathing waters in Scotland is a possibility, according to SEPA. The latest list of 60 bathing waters was announced in May 1999. Previous to the new list being agreed, Scotland had only 23 beaches subject to EU bathing water quality standards. Even 60 is considered very low compared to 472 for the UK as a whole, Sweden’s 602, Finland’s 478 and Denmark’s 1,299.

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