Waste Water Directive to be watered down?

Are legal requirements to be changed to delude the public from awareness of the true level of sewage pollution of our bathing waters?

On 16th October 2012 the Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE) announced a “Major increase in safe bathing areas thanks to the Blue Flag award” and that “the public in almost fifty countries can now enjoy clean bathing water, well maintained services and safe, sustainable beaches and marinas, guaranteed by the Blue Flag”.

Yet only three weeks later on 6th November the results from the Environment Agency were published heralding the fact that UK beaches are dirtiest in a decade, with 40% of UK beaches now failing the national standards for pollution.The beaches failing the higher guideline standard almost doubled to 247 and overall, 40% of the nation’s beaches failed. Standards plummeted in the north-east, with the pass rate falling from 91% to 46%, while in the north-west, just 10% of beaches passed.

Environment minister, Richard Benyon, said: “While the majority of England’s bathing waters continue to be of a good quality, I am disappointed that a number have fallen short of the tighter standard. Water companies are now planning their next round of investment and I am determined that improving bathing water quality should be a key focus of these plans.” whilst Lord Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, said “During intense rainfall, pollution from farmland, roads, and drains is washed into rivers and coastal areas. Water companies also operate ‘combined sewage overflows’ (CSOs) to prevent sewage from backing up and flooding people’s homes. More needs to be done by water companies, businesses, farmers and local authorities to improve the water at Britain’s beaches.”

Hugo Tagholm, executive director of Surfers against Sewage said “The UK’s overburdened sewerage system is bursting at the seams, resulting in all too frequent raw sewage and storm water discharges nationwide” and pointed out that “Even on beaches that pass the basic standard bathers can still be presented with a one in seven chance of contracting gastroenteritis”

The main cause for the worsening situation appears to be a combination of increasing population without the equating proportional means of treatment, with water companies becoming more reliant upon Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) A further factor is undoubtedly the very wet Summer, meaning an even greater discharge of untreated sewage to our sea. There are 31,000 CSOs in the UK, and in October the European courts of justice ruled the UK had breached the EU Urban Waste Water Directive (UWWD) with more frequent and excessive discharges of raw sewage and storm water via CSOs. Increased investment is vitally needed to end the over-reliance of water companies on CSOs as a convenient way to dispose of raw sewage.

But of course it would not indent the water companies profits if the goalposts were changed, and Surfers against Sewage (SAS) is warning us of just this. SAS Campaign Director Andy Cummins has learned that following the 2012 increase in bathing waters failing the required standards, that Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE) is now considering rewriting the rulebook to relax regulations on sewage discharges from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) He has discovered that the FEE is considering amending the criteria that beaches have to meet to achieve the Blue Flag status and on watering down criterion 28 which demands real-time public warnings when raw sewage is discharged from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).

SAS have on their website  a model letter that can be sent to FEE’s director Finn Bolding to protest against weakening the standards now being considered. If you are concerned at this underhand move, please add your signature to the protest urging him to abide by the current regulations. This will ensure the public are always informed of sewage discharges at Blue Flag beaches so helping protect themselves from potentially harmful pathogens like Hep A, Ecoli 0157, Gastro Enteritis and much more.

Perhaps in the interim we could ask that Blue Flags are flown at half mast or replaced by Jolly Rogers.

 PG 12/11/’12

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