Thursday, May 3, 2012

Heavy rains affecting water quality at UK beaches

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): Heavy recent rains are flushing raw sewage into coastal waters, ruining the water quality at popular beaches around the UK just as the bathing season begins, according to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

As it publishes its 2012 Good Beach Guide on Thursday, the MCS reveals that one-third of the 750 beaches it tested failed on water quality, due to contamination from overflowing sewers and run-off from farms or from streets, where dog waste presents a significant problem.

Overall, the proportion of dirty beaches fell by 8%, which the MCS hailed as a "milestone". The south-west, north-east and Wales had the cleanest coasts, with 80% of beaches passing faecal bacteria tests, while Scotland (40%) and the north-west (20%) had the fewest clean bathing spots.

The MCS warning that downpours are harming beaches comes as 13 flood warnings remain in place, mainly on the Severn and Stour rivers.

Sewers are designed to overflow into the sea and rivers when treatment plants are overwhelmed by torrential rain. The alternative is sewage spilling into streets or back up toilets. However, MCS said only a quarter of the 31,000 "combined sewage overflows" (CSOs) in operation in the UK are monitored to record how often they allow raw sewage to flow.

"Some of the CSOs discharge dozens or hundreds of times a year," said Rob Keirle, pollution programme manager at MCS. "We are calling for openness. Where are they? How often do they discharge? How much? There is a reluctance for the regulator [the Environment Agency in England and Wales] to disclose this information, as they don't like what it reveals."...

Drain runoff, shot by "Kanopus Kilya" Канопус Киля, public domain

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