Great news about bathing water…or is it?

Image of CSO by Surfers Against Sewage

Today’s news that water quality at over 70% of UK beaches is officially ‘excellent’ is great isn’t it?

Well on the one hand it is. Surfers Against Sewage have been fighting for cleaner seas since the early 1990s and the constant pressure on politicians and water companies is paying off. But hold on, let’s dig a bit deeper into the facts.

Q: When are the tests taken?

A: The results are based on tests carried out between May and September. This has been the case since bathing water testing was introduced a few decades ago. But does that accurately represent when surfers and other water sports users are in the sea? Err no. There may be more in the summer but there are still hundreds in the water in the depths of winter at some breaks. The best bet for surfers is to sign up to the SAS Sewage Alert Service and get text alerts when CSOs are being used. In the future there may be realtime testing and warning.

Q: Where are the tests taken?

A: Usually near the shoreline, not out at the depth that surfers are sitting and wiping out at.

Q: Why were the results so good in 2013?

A: The good old British weather takes the credit. There was little rainfall that triggered combined sewer outfalls (CSOs) which mix sewage and rainwater. In other words in wet summers and wet winters (and we’ve just had the wettest winter on record) we get worse water quality. All reputable climate scientists are expecting wetter winters in future and more extreme weather events that will overload sewer systems and trigger CSOs – so more  pollution when surfers are out. There is little prospect (if any) that CSOs will be replaced in the near future.

So while today’s news is encouraging, we shouldn’t assume the battle for clean seas is over – there is still plenty of work to do.

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