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Sewage crisis for beaches in Devon and Cornwall as standards plummet

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 25, 2012

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Beaches in some of the Westcountry's tourist hotspots face becoming no-go areas after water quality standards plummeted to their worst level in more than a decade.

Environmental campaigners have described the situation as "disastrous" and warned that resorts will be shunned by tourists if urgent action is not taken.

South West Water blamed the standards failures – provided in figures from the Environment Agency and including beaches at Exmouth, Mounts Bay and Plymouth – on exceptionally heavy summer rainfall triggering overflow systems.

But Andy Cummins, spokesman for the pressure group Surfers Against Sewage, said it simply wasn't good enough.

"Without a doubt, this is unacceptable," he said.

"We have beautiful bathing water and beautiful beaches in the West and we need our water companies to protect our assets.

"What is important to tourists and to local people who love the beaches is how clean the water is."

According to the figures provided by the Environment Agency, beaches at Bude Summerleaze, Budleigh Salterton, East Looe, Instow, Mounts Bay Wherry Town, Plymouth Hoe East, Plymouth Hoe West, Seaton in Cornwall and Shaldon failed to meet the basic standards this summer.

At Weston-super-Mare's Uphill beach, a 30-year unblemished record was breached this season.

In 2015, tougher European standards for water quality will swing into place and failing to make the grade will mean high visibility warning signs advising people not to swim must be prominently installed.

At present it is estimated that more than 40 beaches will fail the new standard, including Rock in Cornwall and Combe Martin in North Devon.

Figures from this year will go towards the first raft of assessments to be carried out for the 2015 start date and Mr Cummins said the effects were easy to predict.

"It could mean that big red and white warning signs will have to be prominently displayed which say the advice is not to swim here because it has failed water quality standards. That could be disastrous to tourism.

"You could see people coming down on holiday and then seeing that sign and turning around and never coming back.

"If there is a problem people deserve to know about it because there are some very nasty pathogens out there."

An Environment Agency spokesman said full water quality standards results for the summer would be published in November.

However, he said the organisation was not expecting a good year: "Some beaches that have never failed before have failed.

"We are bracing ourselves for a bad set of results," he said.

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of VisitCornwall, said the bathing water quality failures caused by a "one in a 100-years" heavy summer rainfall were "regrettable."

He added that the variety and proximity of other beaches in Devon and Cornwall would always offer tourists alternatives should they find themselves advised against swimming at their first choice.

However, he accepted that it could be "quite critical" if resort beaches continually failed to meet required standards.

A South West Water spokesman said they were committed to ensuring beaches pass the 2015 bathing water standards.

"This summer was the wettest on record for 100 years and bad weather can adversely affect bathing water quality when heavy rain impacts on urban drainage and agricultural run-off," he said.

"Heavy storms can also trigger the operation of combined sewer overflows in the sewerage system.

"In preparation for the revised bathing water directive we have already invested £1.7 million in partnership with the Environment Agency to investigate the different factors that can impact on bathing water quality."

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  • deputydog  |  September 27 2012, 11:42AM

    well said disstressing my thoughts exactly

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  • Cruey  |  September 26 2012, 11:03PM

    I agree with Hannah Jones.I chose who I purchase my gas and electricity from... the same price for customers across the country from whoever you chose .... we have NO CHOICE but to have our water from SWW.... bet if we had a choice they would soon sit up and take note..... I do not wish to pay to keep the shareholders happy either ...come on all the westcountry MPs..... ALL OF YOU whatever your politics .we need a blanket charge across the whole of the country for charges to provide water.... or give us the choice of another provider

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  • Cruey  |  September 26 2012, 11:03PM

    I agree with Hannah Jones.I chose who I purchase my gas and electricity from... the same price for customers across the country from whoever you chose .... we have NO CHOICE but to have our water from SWW.... bet if we had a choice they would soon sit up and take note..... I do not wish to pay to keep the shareholders happy either ...come on all the westcountry MPs..... ALL OF YOU whatever your politics .we need a blanket charge across the whole of the country for charges to provide water.... or give us the choice of another provider

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  • Cruey  |  September 26 2012, 11:02PM

    I agree with Hannah Jones.I chose who I purchase my gas and electricity from... the same price for customers across the country from whoever you chose .... we have NO CHOICE but to have our water from SWW.... bet if we had a choice they would soon sit up and take note..... I do not wish to pay to keep the shareholders happy either ...come on all the westcountry MPs..... ALL OF YOU whatever your politics .we need a blanket charge across the whole of the country for charges to provide water.... or give us the choice of another provider

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  • Phil_lip  |  September 26 2012, 9:40PM

    @ Distressing, if anyone votes you down for a personal view that is matter of fact for about 60-70% (the majority) of Cornwall then they are fools, it is unfair you are made to feel that way when in other regions waterbills are up to half what they are here so if we visited them we would not be expected to pay. It is also right that you should feel that way against SAS because they are only trying to do what is right in a way you clearly feel is improper. I would like to ask you if you have a serious solution to sorting out SWW and ways of cleaning the beaches other than saying if people are concerned they should pay for it. @Skinnyman1, Thank You for your kind words, there is so much more to the whole issue of woodlands slowing the excessive flood waters, the majority of crops we grow are only meant to grow in certain latitud**** climatic bands around the planet and the way we force them to grow outisde of those is seriously wrong because of the local weather patterns open fields causes in comparison to a natural woodland/environment. The South American and Asian cultures that grew/grow on steps is the most sensible way to go due to the lesser impact it would have on local climatic conditions. This would then mean that in those areas such as the UK, larger areas could be re-forested and it would become an extremely rare event to have flooding further downstream, but then it would be a trade off of having to ship even more produce around the world to feed those latitud**** climes that are not growing crops.

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  • Skinnyman1  |  September 26 2012, 4:57PM

    @Phil_lip thanks for another informed response, you certainly seem to have a genuine and in depth knowledge of the subject. I wholly agree with most of what you're saying. The damage to the environment is a huge cause for concern in all mankinds activities. The point about trees is an interesting one. I am not a fan of the amount of development going on currently or planned for the future. It's quite scary to think about what the countryside around us could look like in say twenty years time. IMO we're gradually becoming over populated and without a lot of planning, investment and thought about the environmental implications, I think the world as we know it will be a very different place in the future! It's important to remember that the maintenance side of things is another huge outlay. A lot of the main sewers are subject to regular cleaning, pump stations need regular cleaning and maintenance and obviously the sewage treatment works as you say require a great deal of attention to keep them working effectively. I agree with your thoughts on reducing human output. A huge task, but certainly feasible. @HannahJones again I don't dispute that our bills are too high. It should be averaged out across the country, but as Phil_lip says that will never happen whilst private companies govern each region. Remember of course that the supply of fresh water to our properties is only about one third of our bills. Two thirds goes into dealing with the waste product. Given the change in the weather over the last few years, all infrastructure is struggling. What was it that was reported this summer, highest rain fall since records began? If you look at the bigger picture, it's not just SWW experiencing problems with their systems, the EA has obviously also been very busy trying to contain flooding caused by increased river levels and increased ground water levels in places. Council owned systems on the highways have also been failing reguarly. I know it might look like I'm trying to defend SWW with my posts here, but that's not the really the case. I'm just trying to look at the bigger picture. Phil_lip said "I am not saying these companies shouldn't be allowed to make a profit but it is time, the same as with banks and all other companies that have been tied into services or government contracts to start making moral profits that give the consumer a fairer deal and a more suitable level of service." I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.

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  • Distressing  |  September 26 2012, 4:37PM

    I hate Surfers against Sewage. Constantly *****ing about the state of the water secure in the knowledge that most of them don't live down here and don't have to pay for it.. We pay, they benefit. Yes yes tourism benefits the region but in my narrow janner viewpoint it does not benefit me so I object to paying for surfers et al to have a good time. Yes yes some campaigners are local but if they care that much then they can pay to clean the coastline. Vote me down. I feel like some vitriol so i'm voicing the uninformed opinion.

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  • talkinghound  |  September 26 2012, 2:38PM

    Yet another text received this morning warning that sewage is being discharged onto Westward Ho! beach.

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  • Phil_lip  |  September 26 2012, 1:48PM

    That is exactly what should be happening HannahJones, an average divided across the whole country but unfortunately having seperate companies run each region it will never happen. I am not saying these companies shouldn't be allowed to make a profit but it is time, the same as with banks and all other companies that have been tied into services or government contracts to start making moral profits that give the consumer a fairer deal and a more suitable level of service. The annoying thing is that since the leasing of beaches to private companies that were Duchy or council owned, the quality of upkeep has dropped as well and if it wasn't for some of the volunteer groups they wouldn't get cleaned at all and that used to come out of our council tax bills, but they didn't drop the cost of it after that and still got themselves into further debt.

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  • HannahJones  |  September 26 2012, 1:25PM

    Thank you for the insights. I believe that most of the outrage is not merely directed at the filth on the beaches, but the fact that we are charged so much more than anywhere else in the country. My sister in London pays less than half of what we do. The £50 sop we were thrown last year by the government is laughable, especially when the bills promptly went up by more than this. Maybe I am living in cloud cuckoo land (and I expect one of you very sensible and rational gentlemen will tell me I am) but I can't understand why it is impossible that everyone in the country pays the same for the water they use. Constantly being told that we have to pay more because we have a longer coastline, and then being told that "sorry, the sewers can't deal with heavy rain no matter what we charge you," is what makes people angry, no matter what facts and figures they are lacking.

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