The Water Quality issue.
Water quality at UK beaches is still one of the major battlegrounds for Surfers Against Sewage. Sewage contamination from combined sewer overflows (CSO’s) and diffuse pollution remain two of the most serious water quality threats at popular bathing waters, surf spots and recreational coastal sites right around the UK.
The overreliance on CSOs by water companies is the cause of thousands of short term-pollution incidents at beaches every year. There are approximately 31,000 CSOs around the UK, many of which are completely unregulated. The CSO is a kind of emergency outlet for the sewerage system, discharging untreated human sewage and wastewater into rivers and the sea when the system is close to bursting. However, it appears that many CSOs are being used too frequently as a means of regular sewage disposal, not just in the extreme weather conditions they are designed for. This puts untreated human sewage effluent directly into some of our most prized beaches and surf spots, with all the associated health and environmental risks that it carries with it.
Water quality can also be reduced by diffuse pollution, which is the term given to pollution from multiple, often unidentified sources. When these sources combine, they can have a significant impact on water quality. Examples include road, urban and agricultural run-off and leakage from septic tanks. Contaminants can include pathogens, hydrocarbons, chemicals, heavy metals and organic substances. Even when individual inputs are quite small, collectively they can significantly reduce water quality.
The Environment Agency is responsible for testing bathing water quality at approximately 500 designated UK bathing waters 20 times (weekly) during the bathing season from may 15th to September 30th. Samples are analysed against the standards set in the European Bathing Water Directive. Given the range of pollution sources that can impact water quality, from farming to urban run-off, combined sewer overflows to sewerage misconnections, the Environment Agency works with a range of stakeholders including SAS to help maintain and improve standards. No water quality testing occurs outside of the bathing season.