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Bathing Waters Set to Fail

Bathing Waters Set to FailReaders will know we've been warning of an unfolding disaster for tourism and food production across the Fylde Coast for the last two years (since we published  'Sewage Sea Shore' in May 2012).

Our tone on this matter has become increasingly strident - because no-one is doing enough to fix the problem.

Next year, most of the rest of the country will have beaches that meet the higher standard. 

The UK has 623 Designated Bathing Waters.

Just 40 of these are expected to fail next year.

But around 40% of these failures are in the North West.

That's going on for half of all the UK's bathing water failures.

The North West is the worst performing coastline in the UK, with just over half of the 30 (or 32 depending on whose stats are the most up to date)  NW designated bathing waters expected to be classified as 'poor' and thus fail the minimum standard for bathing water next year.

As if Blackpool didn't have enough problems to solve already, here comes the killer blow for it's tourism industry.

And Lytham St Annes is going to be even harder hit, because its reputation is based on an upmarket 'Classic Resort' image. The socio-economic profile of its visitors (think Barbour jackets and brogues) certainly won't put up with getting sewage on their green wellies whilst they're bird-watching, let alone getting it on their feet.

Since the introduction of the 'Revised Bathing Waters Directive' (rBWD) and  especially for the last two years, we have called for action as we predicted that Fylde coast beaches will have signs up warning against bathing (and that includes paddling)

This is because the water still has too high a concentration of E.Coli - a bacteria found in faeces - raw, untreated sewage.

The presence of E. Coli in water is indicative that sewage has been (or is) present in the water, and the concentrations of E.Coli are proportionate to the concentrations of sewage. The more sewage, the more E. Coli.

So measuring the E. coli count tells you how bad the pollution is.

There have been two things going on to address the problem.

There *has* been some attempt (but we would only describe as a half-hearted attempt) to fix it, but there has also been a huge con-trick developed - to distract public attention from what we believe was known to be a response that was always going to be inadequate .

We'll look at both.

ATTEMPTS TO FIX IT

United Utilities have been taking some steps to fix it.

Yes, it is expensive to fix, and yes, it means that either profits and / or shareholder dividends should have taken a bigger hit - because the sums are large.

The trouble is that the steps they have taken are nowhere near enough to solve the problem.

And the ongoing cost - in terms of damage to the Fylde Coast tourism and food industries - will be MUCH greater that the cost to properly resolve the problem.

We believe that wherever there is a Combined Sewage Overflow pipe, there should be an associated underground container that can hold at least the maximum flow discharge that has been experienced by that outflow to date, (and probably a multiple of the current maximum), so that NO sewage is ever discharged from these pipes - even if the treatment works can't cope with the volume.

We're told that in 2011 there were something like 22,000 Combined Sewer Overflows in the UK, but only a quarter of them were monitored to see how often they discharged and how much was discharged each time.

That means for about 165,000 sewer overflows owned by water companies, no one even knew how much sewage was being pumped out, let alone how much storage space would be needed to accommodate it to stop it happening.

United Utilities have made improvements since then, they've recently started mapping and monitoring more CSO's, but we don't believe they have enough data even now to know how much storage is needed to stop sewer overflows, let alone have the plans in place to build storage capacity to prevent it.

They have built some new underground tanks - including a huge one near Preston, but even that only takes the output of seven combined sewer overflows.

It's simply not enough..

The Environment Agency - who regulate UU - have not been anywhere near forceful enough in requiring UU to devote more resources to temporary storage tanks to prevent combined sewer overflows from discharging raw sewage after heavy rain.

And local Councils have applied nothing like enough to pressure the Environment Agency and United Utilities to take the necessary action.

Exceptionally, (because we're often quick to criticise them) we believe Fylde's Community Focus Scrutiny Committee, and especially Cllr Kiran Mulholland has seen the problem, and we believe he has led the way for all the Fylde authorities on this matter. Cllr Mulholland has done a half decent job in drawing attention to the problems.

But even here,  there has not been a big enough fuss made.

Cllr Mulholland is not in the influential Cabinet, and no-one who is in the Cabinet has done anything like enough to speak out for the people in Fylde who rely on tourism and food production to make their living. We believe they should have spoken out much more loudly, and embarrassed the Environment Agency into doing the job they ought to have done before now..

Sadly, it's now probably too late to stop the signs going up next year.

We are entirely confident that next year there will be notices warning against bathing on most of the Fylde Coast's beaches.

COVERING UP THE INADEQUATE RESPONSE

It's our view that a great con trick has been played on the people of the Fylde coast.

We believe that those who should have been fixing it, have deliberately set out to create a 'smoke and mirrors' distraction and diversion scheme to make people think everything possible was being done when, in fact, nothing like enough has been done on the REAL problem.

We also suspect - given the conspiracy of silence that has prevailed - that most of those who should have been speaking out, have tacitly accepted that the worst was going to happen, and there wasn't much they could have done about it.

We think this con-trick started with the 'Turning Tides' conference in Blackpool in September 2012.

We were too slow to see it at the time, but we now believe the very name of the conference was the clue.

It sounded as though it was about turning the tide of water quality for the future.

We're now starting to think it was about turning the tide of public opinion.

We chide ourselves for not seeing this earlier.

We should have heard bells ringing when they had two children speaking at the conference about their futures, and a company from the Lake District that had used a public relations campaign to help decrease the use of phosphates in washing powders (and thus lake district waters)

Fylde's Cllr Peter Hardy spotted it at the time.

He asked a question at the conference and said the impression he had formed from United Utilities' talk was that they were looking to manage our expectations because it was inevitable that some beaches would fail when the new standards came in. The first answer from UU was - shall we say - not entirely clear, and the Chairman pressed for a more specific reply, to which Mr Mogford said "I wouldn't describe it as inevitable"

We wonder what he would say today?

This conference was, of course, also where we first heard about sheep and cow manure being washed off fields and contributing to the problem. We also heard about dogs pooing on the beaches, and about flocks of birds causing the problem.

The aim of the con seems to be to show that despite all the work that's been done, some things are inevitable.

We think this is an attempt to shift - or at least deflect, the blame before it arrives.

Yes, it's likely to be something of an issue, but it's the same issue on all beaches that have estuaries and farmland associated with them.

And if that's the case - what's so special about the North West, that cows and sheep and seagulls in other parts of the country (where the bathing waters are almost all set to pass the new standard) don't cause the same problems?

We seem to be the only area to have this problem.

Are our cows getting too much curry? Are our seagulls getting too much senna? Are our sheep on suppositories?

Of course not.

Agriculture and dog walkers and seagulls are no more of a problem here than they are on the beaches in the south that will pass muster next year.

We've also seen huge a publicity campaign for, and around the: 'Love my Beach' and 'Clean my beach' operations.

These are no doubt a good thing in themselves, and we're not decrying them.

But they're absolutely nothing to do with water quality.

And it's only water quality that will cause bathing waters to fail.

The only thing that measures water quality is the number of  E. coli bacteria in the water sample, and you can't pick those little blighters out of the water with a litterpicker and a bin-bag.

So more than ever now, we are convinced we've been sold a pup with this PR campaign.

We think it was conceived to deflect the criticism that will inevitably follow the first clutch of bathing water failures next spring.

THE REAL STORY STARTS TO LEAK

Our regular readers will know we've been banging on about this problem - and the lack of sufficient action - for over two years now, and we've been pooh-poohed as scaremongering by those who want to keep the lid on it.

There have been several failures in the current year, but next year, the classification system is more stringent, and - as we have repeatedly warned -  it will be  it will be TWICE as hard for all Fylde coast bathing waters to avoid a 'Poor' classification - which itself means signs warning against bathing.

However, given that we are now probably beyond the point of no return for solving the problem before next year, the real story of what's going to happen is starting to leak out.

It's the start of the damage limitation strategy. - break the news slowly and letting people acclimatise to each step.

Readers may have seen the BBC's 'Countryfile' programme last Sunday which addressed the issue of bathing water quality.

Likely bathing water result

Images of St Annes Beach and the distinctive green and white pier were all over the television screen as we were told that whilst a lot was being done to fix it, the situation was still 'challenging' (for which, we believe you can read: we haven't got a hope in hell of fixing it before next year).

We were told that almost half the designated bathing waters in the North West will have to put up signs to advise against going in the sea.  And a nice spokesman for the Environment Agency said "There will be a lot more information - so the public can choose whether they come to these bathing waters or not"

And we know what that decision is going to be.

It won't be so much because of the actual water - not that many people go into the water. As we've said all along, it's the perception that the Fylde coast is a dirty and unhygienic place to be, and that's going to keep people away in droves and damage the image of food producers as well.

But what we didn't see on 'Countryfile' was a Fylde Portfolio Holder for the Environment or a Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture raging against the lack of sufficient action to resolve the problem.

That's what has been missing all along, but - as we said - a conspiracy of silence seems to prevail amongst the present administration at Fylde.

Former Councillors like Eileen Hall, John Tavernor, David Jefferies, and George Bamber had personal ownership of issues like this, and would have metaphorically flayed those responsible alive for failing to solve the problem.

They would have taken a much harder line than the pussyfooting around we have seen from the present administration.

But the real story is now also starting to leak out on official websites.

We couldn't find predictions for 2015 season that used the new classifications on either United Utilities or the Environment Agency websites (they're still using the old ones), but predictions are now on a website called 'Love My Beach'  where you can use a map to choose a beach, then use the 'Find out more' link to see them (if you're prepared to wait for a slow loading page).

This website shows the 'Turning Tides' logo as a footer, and claims the copyright to an organisation called 'LovemyBeach'

The relevant website registry shows the domain name is registered via a UK company and the owner has paid extra for privacy to hide the real name of the website owner. So it's not possible to see who is behind it.

That said, the 'About Us' page says "Turning tides is a partnership of organisations working together in North West England to do everything we can to improve the quality of our bathing waters. Through infrastructure, planning, campaigning, volunteering, educating, engaging and hard work, our aim is to make sure everyone enjoys our beaches for generations to come."

Motherhood and apple pie.

After a bit of a search, we did track down the Board Members. They are:

  • Phil Huck (Barrow Borough Council)
  • Jim Black (Sefton Council)
  • Keith Ashcroft (Environment Agency)
  • Neil Jack (Blackpool Council)
  • Mike Cook (Marine Conservation Society)
  • Richard McIlwain (Keep Britain Tidy)
  • Alice Unsworth (National Farmers Union)
  • Peter Hampson (British Destinations)
  • Simon Chadwick (United Utilities)

So it does look to be an authoritative information source.

It's an awful website to navigate, dumbed down, lots of graphics, slow to respond and difficult to find your way around, and the more sensitive information is shown on a picture background (which makes the text more difficult to read), but if you persevere, it does, for the first time, give the official prediction of which beaches are going to fail next year.

Because the information is so difficult to get at, we've tabulated it here for our readers, so you  can see at a glance what's likely to happen. These are the official predictions for the 2015 bathing season as at 17th June 2014.

Remember, a 2015 classification of 'Poor' means the water has failed over the last four years, and a sign warning against bathing will have to be erected

  Current (2014)
Annual Classification
rBWD *
Prediction for 2015
Fleetwood Fail Poor
Cleveleys Minimum Pass Poor
Bispham Minimum Pass Sufficient
Blackpool North Minimum Pass Poor
Blackpool Central Minimum Pass Poor
Blackpool South Minimum Pass Poor
St Annes North Minimum Pass Poor
St Annes Fail Poor
* Predictions made as at 17 June 2014 sourced from   http://lovemybeach.org/

Any bathing water designated as 'Poor' under the classification applied from next year will have to have signage erected warning against bathing on that beach.

Aadvice Against Bathing sign

The sign warning bathers against bathing if the water designation is 'poor'

Furthermore, if five consecutive "Poor" classifications arise from the rolling dataset at any time, (i.e. potentially at any point from the start of the 2020 bathing season onward), then permanent advice against bathing must be displayed at the bathing water.

Bathing Prohibited sign

The sign to be used after five  "poor"  classifications

We take no pleasure from delivering this information even though it justifies the assertions and the calls for proper and robust action we have been making for the last two years.

But, because not enough has been done, and the conspiracy of silence has been effective, we suspect that the sewage will probably only hit the fan when the signs actually go up.

That will be around March 2015.

Just in time for the local elections in May - and those whose jobs come under threat will do well to remember which administration it was that has let them down.

Dated:     19 June 2014


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