With even tighter EU bathing water standards set to take effect in 2015, the quality of our coastal waters has never been more important.
We are one of many organisations with a role to play in boosting the quality of bathing water on the North West coast, from Kirby to the Scottish borders.
Bathing water quality can be affected by a range of factors, including sewer overflows, water run-off from agricultural land, run-off from roofs and roads, and dog, donkey and bird poo close to the beach.
The Environment Agency currently estimates United Utilities’ contribution to regional water quality is about 30 per cent - demonstrating that our operations have a significant impact, but that we are one part of a wider jigsaw.
In 2013, 88 per cent of bathing waters in our region passed mandatory standards set by the Environment Agency. This is an increase on the previous year, a result of continued joint action and more favourable weather - with fewer torrential downpours resulting in a reduction in sewer overflows into the region’s watercourses.
We’re playing our part in cleaner coastal waters by:
Upgrading our wastewater treatment works and sewers: we’re investing in new equipment to improve the quality of treated wastewater that we return to the environment, as well as increasing the capacity of our sewers.
Most significantly, our £160m flagship scheme to clean the River Ribble and bathing waters around the Fylde coast is now up and running.
This four year project saw the construction of gigantic underground tanks and pipes in Preston, able to retain storm water during heavy rain, and prevent sewers from overflowing into the watercourse.
The scheme includes a 3.5km tunnel big enough for a car to drive in and storage tanks the size of 16 Olympic swimming pools.
Overflows – keeping the public informed: when heavy rain threatens to overwhelm our sewer system, we are permitted by the Environment Agency to release some of this water (contained diluted sewage) from our network, through sewer overflows.
We’re working towards the provision of more timely information for the public when these overflows occur, so people can make informed choices about when and where they bathe.
This year sees the start of a trial which will see us monitor sewer overflows along the Fylde coast. When there is a risk of bathing water deterioration, public updates will be provided via our own website and the one run by action group Surfers Against Sewage. More information is available on our Bathing Waters pages on our website.
Last year we also launched an interactive map that allows users to browse all 30 bathing waters in the North West, and obtain information on bathing water quality. This year we have expanded the system to provide near real time information on the potential risks to water quality from our sewer overflows at 10 bathing water locations.
Coastal modelling project: this year we are launching a £4.4m study to better understand, at a micro level, how our wastewater network can affect bathing water quality.
The project will see us take thousands of samples along the entire North West coastline. These will be used by computer modelling experts to identify where our sewers could be improved to prevent pollution during heavy rain.
Bringing partners together: we continue to work with other interested organisations to focus attention and activity on bathing water quality issues in the North West.
We remain an active member of the LOVEmyBEACH campaign which encourages individuals and organisations to take action to reduce sea pollution. Other members are the Environment Agency, Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society, local authorities, British Destinations, and the National Farmers Union.
We are also an active partner in the Fylde Peninsula Water Management Group, which sees us work with local authorities, the Environment Agency, tourism bodies and Keep Britain Tidy to share expertise, resources and skills in order to improve bathing water quality and tackle flooding.
If you would like to send us a comment about this report, please email our Head of Sustainability, Chris Matthews