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  • by Karma Loveday

English bathing waters buoyant as 99% pass standards

Bathing waters in England that passed quality standards in 2021 made up 99% of the national total – up on 2019’s 98.3% and the best results since 2015.

Environment Agency (EA) testing of 400 designated bathing sites revealed 94.7% were "excellent" or "good" and 4.3% were "sufficient".

Despite the strong results, EA has pushed the need for more improvement. The agency's chair, Emma Howard Boyd, said: “Twenty years of improvements in bathing water took targeted regulation and significant investment. While this is reflected in today’s results we must continue to work together to maintain this trend. We cannot afford to be complacent. Public confidence in water quality has faltered in recent years with new evidence of pollution incidents getting much needed attention as a result of some excellent campaigning. The polluter must pay. To restore trust, water companies, industry and farmers need to get the basics right or face legal action.”

A Water UK spokesperson commented: “We share the Environment Agency’s view that we must not allow complacency to reverse this positive trend with water companies keen to go further. In a recent report we called for a new ‘Bathing Rivers’ framework to support the creation of inland bathing sites in every region of England. This will not happen overnight but with targeted investment, effective regulation and the cooperation of other sectors we believe we can do for inland bathing what we have done for coastal bathing.”

The River Wharfe in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, made its first appearance on the classifications list, having been designated last year. It was one of only a handful of bathing waters categorised as "poor". Yorkshire Water announced investment of £13m to improve water quality in the area, including extra disinfection measures at the Grassington, Draughton and Beamsley treatment works; a scheme to re-route the sewage network in areas upstream of the site; upgrade of the Rivadale combined sewer overflow; and investigations of misconnections within the catchment.

Director of wastewater at Yorkshire Water, Ben Roche, said: “While our investment will help improve water quality, it alone will not guarantee an improvement in the bathing water classification. Our modelling indicates pollution is entering the watercourses from a variety of sources, including misconnections and agricultural land which the river and its tributaries run through. It is important other landowners and stakeholders take action to ensure water quality is improved in the future, with the ultimate aim of improving the bathing water classification.”


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