Environment Agency
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Majority of bathing waters pass strict quality tests

Over 98 per cent of beaches and inland bathing waters in England and Wales met standards for bathing water quality this year, the Environment Agency said yesterday.

New figures released yesterday by Defra and the Welsh Government show that in 2011, 492 of 502 bathing waters (98 per cent) passed water quality standards. Twenty years ago just three quarters were clean enough to pass the test.

In addition nine out of ten beaches this year met even higher EC standards, which are due to come into force in 2015.

Still more work to do

Christine Tuckett, head of bathing waters at the Environment Agency, said that the results showed how drastically bathing water has improved over the last two decades, but cautioned that there was still more work to do.

“Over £8bn has been invested by water companies and the Environment Agency to upgrade our sewerage systems and reduce pollution. As a result, almost all of our beaches meet the minimum standards now, compared to just three quarters in 1991,” she said.

“But new, stricter standards will come into force in 2015, and we are working with water companies, farmers, local authorities and beach managers to tackle persistent sources of pollution and make sure that as many beaches as possible pass these standards.”

Ambitious programme for further improvements

The Environment Agency has already begun an ambitious programme to drive further improvements in bathing water quality and bring waters up to the new 2015 standards.

It has helped to secure a further £4bn investment by the water industry in environmental improvements, including at bathing waters, between 2010 and 2015. Over 90 projects will improve water quality at 37 coastal locations, while scientific investigation will help identify sources of pollution at a further 44 sites.

To make the further improvements needed to meet stricter standards, the Environment Agency is working with farmers to reduce the amount of pollution caused by animal waste that is washed off farmland into rivers, streams and ultimately bathing waters. 

And it is now focusing on work with Local Authorities and other partners to address pollution from roads,  homes and businesses, caused when everyday things like dishwashers, washing machines and toilets are incorrectly plumbed – potentially releasing waste water into inland and coastal waters. 

Christine Tuckett added: “Farmers, businesses, local authorities and water companies all have a role to play in improving water quality. We need to act now to make the improvements necessary to bring our bathing waters up to the new stricter standards.”

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