UK Agency Calls for Action to Improve Water Quality

The United Kingdom's Environment Agency on Nov. 13 called on the farming community, local authorities, and the water industry to help to do more to tackle the pollution of bathing waters around the coast of England and Wales.

It plans to meet with relevant organizations to address the issue of water pollution caused by livestock manure and slurry, and sewage, particularly during bad weather.

Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government have published bathing water quality data for 2008 in which 96 percent of bathing waters in England and 99 percent in Wales passed mandatory quality standards. In England, 65.7 percent of waters and 77 percent in Wales passed the stricter guideline standard.

Many locations this year were affected by extended periods of heavy rainfall during the summer, resulting in pollution caused by surface water runoff from farmland and urban areas, along with the more frequent operation of combined sewer overflows discharging into the sea. The Environment Agency is calling for more action to prevent the pollution of bathing water, particularly in light of a likely increase in the severity and frequency of heavy rainfall events due to climate change.

Initial investigations suggest that pollution from livestock manure and slurry was a factor at 16 of the 17 waters that failed to achieve mandatory status. The Environment Agency is already working with the farming community to help tackle this issue by offering advice on protecting soils to prevent runoff through its Best Farming Practices program and thinksoils manual. It also welcomes the extension of the England Catchment Sensitive Farming delivery initiative, which aims to help farmers reduce water pollution from agricultural land.

Investigations also suggest that pollution from overflowing drains and sewers was a factor at 13 of the 17 locations that failed to achieve mandatory status.

The Environment Agency called on water companies in England and Wales last month to invest more in maintenance to help reduce the risk of pollution incidents as part of water regulator Ofwat's review of the companies' business plans for 2010-2015. This will build on the £2 billion investment by the industry in bathing water quality improvements over the past two decades.

Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: "Bathing water quality around the coast of England and Wales has improved dramatically over the past 20 years, but we cannot afford to be complacent. Changing weather conditions are presenting new challenges and we will continue to work closely with the farming community, local authorities, and the water industry to tackle the sources of water pollution."

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