1. ITV Report

Heavy rain blamed for water quality failings

Blackpool has failed to meet water quality standards Photo: ITV Granada

A total of six beaches in the North West have failed to meet water quality standards, with the heavy rain blamed for some failings.

Figures published by Defra today show that 93 per cent of England's bathing waters met the minimum European water quality standard, and over 58 per cent meeting the tighter guideline standard following one of the wettest summers on record.

In the North West 82 per cent of bathing waters met the minimum standard while 12 per cent attained the higher guideline standards.

Six bathing waters in the region failed to meet the minimum standards this year - the same number that failed in 2011. This is due to some waters in the region remaining vulnerable to the effects of very heavy rainfall as pollution is washed from cities and rural areas into our rivers and streams. During intense rainfall, pollution from farmland, roads, and drains is washed into water courses. Water companies also operate Combined Sewage Overflows to prevent sewage from backing up and flooding people's homes during periods of extensive heavy rainfall.

Bathing water quality in the North West has improved significantly over the past two decades. But this very wet year has re-emphasised that more needs to be done. The bathing waters that did not meet the minimum standard in the Fylde area are Blackpool North, Blackpool South and Cleveleys. The others that did not meet the standard in the region are Allonby South, Walney Biggar Bank and Walney West Shore.

Dan Bond, Environment Agency Bathing Waters Manager, said: "We are disappointed by these results after major improvements which have been achieved over the last 20 years.

"Heavy rainfall washes animal wastes from fields and causes storm sewage overflows to operate. This contributed to six of the North West's designated bathing waters failing to meet the mandatory standards under the current Bathing Waters Directive.

"Alongside these sources of pollution are smaller and more difficult to find sources of pollution such as toilets wrongly connected to clean water drains. Improving the quality of our bathing waters is everyone's responsibility so we are working with others, including local authorities and United Utilities, to find and stop these numerous and many smaller sources of pollution.

"As part of this work we have surveyed many of our rivers that impact our bathing waters and taking actions to help reduce the impact that they have, particularly that caused by rainfall run-off from agricultural land. We have also undertaken a survey along the Fylde coastline to identify all possible sources of contamination and now working to improve any problems.

"In order to improve bathing water quality further we need businesses and home owners to take action. This includes checking your drainage system, and picking up dog poo at all beaches."

This very wet year has re-emphasised that more needs to be done by water companies, businesses, farmers and local authorities to improve the water at Britain's beaches and meet more stringent water quality targets, which will come into force in 2015.

Water companies are now planning their next round of investment and we are determined that improving bathing water quality should be a key focus of these plans.

Cllr Gary Coleman, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Urban Development, said: "The quality of our bathing waters is a key priority for the council. It's a difficult challenge but its one we are facing head on. The recent Turning Tides conference held in the town brought all of the organisations together and it highlighted no agenciues can do in this in isolation, we all need to work together.

"It's been encouraging to see local businesses do their bit and the recent beach cleans organised by the SEALIFE centre has seen hundreds of volunteers take an active role. It's fantastic to see the support out there and we will be communicating to businesses, residents and visitors in the future so they can help us in our attempt to improve the quality of our bathing water."

Overall, the long term bathing water quality trend has improved, reflecting the major investment by water companies.