Bathing water in the South East
The role of water companies in protecting it
The main objective is the further protection of public health and also to increase the information available about bathing water quality so people can make informed decisions about where and when to bathe. It is an EU directive, implemented and managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency.
Bathing water monitoring
The Environment Agency takes weekly samples during the bathing water season on behalf of Defra. Samples are taken at 83 designated bathing waters in Southern Water’s region, all of which are beaches.
Under the new directive, the samples are tested for two types of bacteria.
The number of bacteria found in the samples over four years determines the classification of the bathing water.
The overall classification for each bathing water is published by Defra shortly after the bathing season, usually in November.
Key changes to the Bathing Water Directive
Bathing water quality classifications
The new BWD has brought in a new way of measuring water quality.
There are four new classifications – excellent, good, sufficient and poor – which replace the previous fail, mandatory (minimum) and guideline (highest).
- Excellent – about twice as stringent as the previous guideline standard and the standard required for a Blue Flag (as of 2013)
- Good – broadly equivalent to the previous guideline standard
- Sufficient – about twice as stringent as the previous mandatory pass
- Poor – below sufficient.
Two new bacterial indicators are being used to measure quality (e. coli and intestinal enterococci).
Previous indicators (faecal and total coliforms and faecal streptococci) are no longer monitored.
The Environment Agency began monitoring these new indicators in 2012. Four years of data are needed before bathing waters can be classified using the revised standards. As a result, the first results using these standards will be published after the end of the 2015 bathing water season.
It is important to note a change in classification does not necessarily mean a change in quality. Only the way quality is measured has changed, therefore, a drop in classification does not mean water quality is poorer – in fact the UK’s bathing water has improved steadily since water companies were privatised in 1989.
Online bathing water profiles
These were created by the Environment Agency for each of the UK’s designated bathing waters and can be viewed on the agency’s website environment.data.gov.uk/ bwq/explorer/index.html; Each profile includes:
- A description, map and photograph of the bathing water
- The bathing water quality classification
- Potential pollution sources and risks to bathing water quality
- Measures being taken to improve water quality.
Information on beaches for bathing water users
As of May 2015, information about water quality and potential sources of pollution is displayed at designated bathing waters.
The signs, which are the responsibility of the beach manager (usually the local authority), must have a description of the bathing water. From 2016, the signs will also include the classification of the bathing water.
Pollution risk forecasting
The Environment Agency now alerts the public when certain bathing waters may be affected by predicted rainfall that day. The aim is to allow people to make an informed decision over whether or not to bathe. When the agency makes its forecast, the beach manager must put up a sign (before 9am) to advise the public about the predicted dip in water quality.
The agency also posts predictions on its website http://environment.data.gov.uk/bwq/explorer/stp.html
A small trial carried out in 2013 was extended to the beaches most affected by heavy rain, 20 of which are in the Southern Water region.
Heavy rain can affect bathing water quality in a number of ways, so signs do not necessarily mean a release from a water company CSO has happened or will happen. In fact, the water quality may not be affected at all – the signs simply warn against a potential impact when rain is forecast.
The Blue Flag scheme is operated by Keep Britain Tidy. A local authority must apply for a Blue Flag and to gain one the beach must meet a number of criteria, one of which is water quality. Keep Britain Tidy uses the sample results taken by the Environment Agency during the previous year’s bathing water season. The other criteria includes:
- Environmental education and information (such as displays of maps)
- Environmental management (adequate waste bins)
- Safety and services (lifeguards and life rings).
The awards are announced in May, just before the start of the bathing season.
How you can help
- Two-thirds of sewer blockages are caused by things that should not be flushed down toilets, such as wet wipes and sanitary items.
- Blockages can cause sewers to back up and overflow, potentially harming streams, rivers and beaches.
- Cooking fat, oil and grease, which hardens over time, can also play havoc with drains and should be put in the bin.
This advice has reached thousands of customers, thanks to our award-winning Pain in the Drain campaign.
We are also in the early stages of creating a Love My Coast campaign to raise awareness of things we can all do to keep bathing waters clean.
For more information visit