Bathing water results are out today. 99% of bathing waters in England have passed water quality standards following testing at over 400 designated sites carried out by the Environment Agency.
For the 2021 bathing season 94.7% of beaches and inland waters gained an ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ rating while 4.3% achieved the minimum ‘Sufficient’ rating. This compares with 98.3% passing the required standards in 2019, and is the highest number since new standards were introduced in 2015.
The EA has been monitoring bathing water sites since the 1990s, and in this time there have been significant improvements. In the early 1990s, for example, just 28% of bathing waters met the highest standards in force at that time.
Based on today’s data, as i said 99% of bathing waters meet the minimum standard, with 70.7% reaching the highest standards.
While progress has been made, there is still much more to be done to ensure cleaner and healthier waters for people to enjoy. We are clear that more needs to be done on the part of water companies, and the Government are taking robust action to support regulators, businesses, farmers and councils to help clean up our waters.
I understand constituents will have seen the EAC's new report on the quality of rivers across the UK, and I just wanted to highlight the various action we are taking on sewerage, water companies and cleaning up our waters. We are being proactive and taking positive, significant steps.
- Since 2015 the Environment Agency has brought 48 prosecutions against water companies, securing fines of over £137 million. Some of the biggest fines were imposed last year – including a record £90 million fine for Southern Water in July for thousands of illegal discharges – making clear that polluters will be made to pay for damage to the environment. Last year the Environment Agency and Ofwat also launched major investigation based on evidence that some water companies in England may not be complying with their permits, resulting in excess sewage spills into the environment, even in dry periods.
On EA funding
- Defra and its agencies received an additional £4.3bn in the latest Spending Review in October 2021 so we can do more to protect our environment for future generations. The Environment Agency plays a hugely significant role in this area and will always seek to hold those responsible for environmental harm to account.
On water company investment:
- Between 1990 and 2020 the water industry has invested about £30 billion in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality in rivers. A further £7.1 billion is planned to be invested between 2020 and 2025, of which £3.1 billion on storm overflow
On storm overflows:
- Monitoring of the network has increased 14-fold in the last five years and the Environment Agency is now monitoring 80% of storm overflows – that will increase to 100% by 2023. Anyone can access the data on GOV.UK.
- In recent months the Government has put in place:
- a new duty directly on water companies to secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from storm overflows.
- a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.
- a power of direction for the government to direct water companies in relation to the actions in these Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans. We will use this power of direction if plans are not good enough. This is a powerful tool.
- a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows by September 2022
- a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.
- a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real time information on the operation of storm overflows. This means it will be clear as to how often storm overflows are being used, which will aid enforcement.
- a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
- In July last year, this Government set out, for the first time ever, its expectation that Ofwat (the regulator) should incentivise water companies to invest to significantly reduce the use of storm overflows in the forthcoming pricing review period. Ofwat will be required to act in accordance with this expectation. We have placed this policy position in law.
On microplastics and wet wipes:
- We are taking a range of actions to prevent plastic from entering the environment in the first place by eliminating the most problematic plastics. We have already banned microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. Our 5p plastic bag charge has reduced sales by 95% in the major supermarkets and we have now increased this to 10p and extended it to all retailers. We have introduced restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds, and we are currently consulting on further action to tackle single use plastic cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups. The government has funded research to examine wider sources of microplastics and this research will help to inform future policy.
- We know that wet wipes make up more than 90% of the material that causes sewers to block, causing pollution and surface water flooding, as well as costly damage to pipes.
- Last year we launched a call for evidence on tackling commonly littered single-use plastics such as wet wipes, as well as sauce sachets, cigarette filters and single-use cups. As part of this the government is considering various regulatory options – including a ban on wet wipes containing plastic, a mandatory ‘flushability’ standard, mandatory labelling on packaging, and an extended producer responsibility scheme for wipes containing plastic
I hope this comes as a reassuring and helpful update, and to read more on this wider issue, please visit the following pages: