What are the challenges?
The North West's bathing waters are among the most improved in the country, but historically the quality has been poor.
In 1988, just six of the then 29 waters monitored in the region met bathing water guidelines. By 2014, all of our bathing waters were of the necessary standard.
In 2015 the bar has been raised and new, much tighter bathing water standards have been introduced. Waters will have to be twice as clean to meet the minimum standard. You can see the latest bathing water results here.
So, why have our bathing waters struggled with pollution and what are the challenges today?
The Environment Agency’s investigations show that around 30 per cent of the problem in the North West is linked to sewerage from our wastewater network.
Historically, the region’s waterways were used for disposal of raw sewage. As was commonplace at the time, it was disposed directly into the water with up to 570 million litres a day (or 34 million toilet flushes) discharged off the region’s coast.
The North West struggled with so many densely populated areas, including large clusters around the coast – if you stand at the top of Blackpool Tower and look away from the coast, you can see the size of the area which drains to the sea.
Sewer overflow spills are also an issue - a legacy of the traditional system adopted nationally for dealing with waste water.
The spills, permitted and monitored by the Environment Agency, occur during periods of heavy rain when traditional systems cannot handle increased water levels and are necessary to avoid flooding.
Farmers and the general public also have a part to play, with water running off fields containing animal droppings and dog fouling on beaches having an impact on water quality. Simply picking up your dog's mess on a beach walk can help – see more in the “What you can do to help” section.
Finally, the region’s natural make-up means it is prone to rainfall, with several areas of the North West regularly named among the wettest areas of the UK by the Met Office.
And the rain has continued to fall. Recent years have seen widespread flooding – more than twice the normal rainfall fell in Greater Manchester and Cheshire in 2000, the wettest UK year on record, while 2012 was the wettest year ever in England, with many parts of the North West hit by flooding, and this was partly to blame for six failures.
The sewage system simply cannot cope with such levels of water in a short space of time and this leads to diluted storm sewage entering the region’s rivers and the Irish Sea, via the outfalls.
By 2015, we will have invested £1bn on bathing water improvements, fine-tuning the wastewater network to ensure treated water returned to the water cycle is of a better quality. This will, of course, continue, with a further £250m investment planned for 2015-2020.
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