Water quality

Contaminated water can pose a risk to both humans and the environment.  Water quality is affected by overflow from sewers, pollution from sewage treatment plants, and the run-off of water from agricultural land and urban areas.  An increase in rainfall can cause water quality to worsen, as run-off increases. 

The heavy rains of July 2009 have had a profound effect on Britain’s beaches.  Water quality has worsened over the last three years, and this year has seen a 17% drop in the number of beaches rated as ‘excellent’ in the Marine Conservation Society's Good Beach Guide.  The Marine Conservation Society recently calculated that on 43% of tested beaches, swimmers now have a one in 20 chance of contracting gastroenteritis.  This is largely due to the overflow of sewage into the sea.  Sewage treatment plants have been unable to cope with excess rain, and have had to rely on combined sewer overflow pipes (CSOs) - usually considered a last resort.  CSOs intercept both rainwater and raw sewage, and flow into rivers.  This eventually reaches the sea, where it pollutes the seawater and beaches.  

The Environment Agency warns of the dangers of swimming on beaches polluted by CSOs, suggesting that people do not swim until at least 24 hours after a rainstorm. 

The Marine Conservation Society's Good Beach Guide

The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Beach Guide identifies beaches recommended for their water quality.  A searchable map of recommended beaches can be found at www.goodbeachguide.co.uk

The Blue Flag Programme

The Blue Flag Programme awards its Blue Flag label to beaches and marinas recognised for their water quality, safety, management of the environment and provision of environmental education and information. 

The Seaside Awards

The Seaside Awards is a similar scheme that runs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Island. 

Maps of Blue Flag and Seaside Award winning beaches and information on facilities and directions are available for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

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