Having best bathing waters is no small task

Morecambe sea frontIn the past, the quality of bathing waters in our region has been poor. In 1988, just six of the then 29 waters monitored in the region met bathing water guidelines.

However, by 2014, all of the bathing waters in the lovely North West were among the most improved in the country and met the necessary standards.

Achieving this has been no small task. Particularly as in 2015, new, much tighter bathing water standards were brought in - waters now have to be twice as clean to meet the minimum grade. You can find the latest bathing water results here.

Why have our bathing waters struggled with pollution in the past? 

Years ago, the region’s waterways were used for disposal of raw sewage. It's not a nice thought but it was quite common at the time for up to 570 million litres a day (or 34 million toilet flushes) to be discharged off the region’s coast.

The North West struggled with so many densely populated areas, including large clusters of homes and businesses around the coast. For example, if you don't mind heights and stand at the top of Blackpool Tower, you can see the size of the area which drained to the sea.

What are the challenges today?

Take a look at the Environment Agency’s website to see their investigations results - they show that around 30 per cent of the problem in the North West is linked to sewerage from our wastewater network.

There's no getting away from the fact that it's not the Mediterranean round here (well, not most of the time). Our region’s natural make-up means it is prone to rainfall, with several areas of the North West regularly named among the wettest areas of the UK by the Met Office. Recent years have seen more widespread flooding – 2012 was the wettest year ever in England, with many parts of the North West hit by flooding. 

The upshot is that the sewage system simply cannot cope with such levels of water in a short space of time and this leads to diluted storm sewage entering the region’s rivers and the Irish Sea, via sewer overflows. These overflows, which are permitted and monitored by the Environment Agency, occur during periods of heavy rain when the sewerage systems cannot handle increased water levels, and are necessary to avoid flooding.

But we know that sewer overflows can contribute to water quality, which is why we have invested £1 billion on bathing water improvements, fine-tuning the wastewater network to make sure treated water returned to the water cycle is of a better quality. We're also investing a further £250 million up to 2020. You can read more about our investments across the region.

What else pollutes the water and can you do anything about it?

Farmers and the general public also have a part to play - water that runs off fields containing animal droppings, and dog fouling on beaches, affect water quality too. Simply picking up your dog's mess on a beach walk can help. See what other part you can play in helping to keep the region's water clean.