Environmental Quality is the term used to embrace the quality of air, water and land. Within the Solent, the prime issue is water quality within the inshore waters and estuaries. Many human activities and their by-products have the potential to pollute water. Large and small industrial enterprises, the water industry, the urban infrastructure, agriculture, horticulture, transport, discharges from abandoned mines, and deliberate or accidental pollution incidents all affect water quality Pollution may arise as point sources, such as discharges through pipes, or may be more diffuse, such as from run off from streets and buildings, or agricultural nutrients lost from fields.
Investment in infrastructure to improve environmental quality lies principally with those whose activities could potentially cause environmental damage, such as industry which discharges into the marine environment. Whilst is it unlikely that individual operations could cause significant impacts, cumulative impacts can be locally significant. Regulation of environmental quality lies within the public sector, with much responsibility in the hands of the Environment Agency.
The trend in environmental quality over the last century has been for a long term decline due to urbanisation and a lack of inadequate investment in waste management. However, more recently there has been improvements in environmental quality due to the implementation of environmental legislation and considerable investment by the industry. The trend will be for a continued decrease in the amount of pollution discharged to the marine environment, particularly through the implementation of the EC Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the revised Bathing Water Directive which will see action being taken at all levels to improve the chemical and biological quality of our waters. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the most substantial piece of EC water legislation to date and is designed to improve and integrate the way water bodies are managed throughout Europe.
BATHING WATER QUALITY
By far the greatest volume of waste discharged to the marine environment is sewage. Without treatment, crude sewage flows into natural waters and causes pollution. Sewage effluent contains industrial waste, rainwater and water from domestic baths and washing machines, fats, faecal matter and anything washed down drains or flushed down the toilet. Untreated sewage contains bathroom waste such as condoms, cotton bud sticks and sanitary products. There are a number of bacteria and viruses that are found in raw sewage. Numerous studies have indicated that the greater the sewage contamination and exposure of people, the higher the risk of contracting ear, nose and throat infections and stomach upsets such as gastroenteritis. Other disease-causing agents that may be present in sewage include enteric viruses, salmonella and the Hepatitis A virus.
Bathing water quality results in the UK are assessed on the basis of compliance with standards in Directive 76/160/EEC. The two main standards used to assess the quality of bathing water are total coliforms and faecal coliforms, which are bacteria found in the guts of humans and other warm-blooded animals, and are indicators of contamination from sewage and other sources. The Directive sets minimum ‘mandatory’ values to be achieved by 95% of samples (normally 19 out of 20 samples) taken during the bathing season. The number of samples failing to meet the Directive’s standards for total and faecal coliform bacteria is shown for each failed bathing water in the results table. The tightest ‘guideline’ water quality standard used in the UK is based on compliance with tighter values for total and faecal coliforms to be achieved by 80% of samples during the season and for compliance with a standard for a maximum level of faecal streptococci. This standard sets the water quality criterion of the Blue Flag award and beaches that meet the standard are described as ‘guideline’ (indicated by ‘G’) in the results table. Blue Flag is an independent award administered in England by Keep Britain Tidy.
There are 20 designated EU bathing sites in the Solent area. The water at these sites is tested regularly for its quality throughout the bathing period (May-September inclusive) by the Environment Agency. The results are displayed at local beaches and can be found on the Environment Agency website. The Environment Agency publishes detailed water bathing profiles on the cleanliness of some 500 bathing water sites across England and Wales. The new bathing water profiles include maps, photos and links to the latest water quality results for each of the country’s designated coastal and inland bathing sites. The profiles have been released to help the public make more informed choices about the best locations to visit and enjoy.
On 27 May 2011 the European Commission adopted an Implementing Decision to establish the symbols that will be used to display bathing water quality classifications and, in the appropriate circumstances, to advise against bathing. The symbols will come into use in the UK after the first classifications are announced during the autumn of 2015.
Bathing water quality is considered either:
- Excellent - this means that bathing water quality has met the tightest EC guideline standards, or
- Good - this means that the water has met the minimum standard and is likely to be safe for bathing, or
- Poor/Fail - this indicates that the quality of the bathing water did not meet the minimum standard. If the water quality is poor, bathing is not advisable
The Government has published the new Bathing Water Regulations 2013 for England and Wales which came into force on 31 July 2013. These Regulations replace the Bathing Water Regulations 2008. They take into account the changes in Wales with the formation of Natural Resources Wales and make some important changes with regard to the management of privately operated bathing waters. The new regulations can be downloaded here at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/1675/made.
Solent Water Quality Awards
Those beaches that have good or excellent bathing water quality are presented with an annual Solent Water Quality Award Often the Award plaque is displayed alongside the results board and an Award Flag is flown showing where you can find them.
Good water quality in areas where shellfish live is essential to prevent contamination of shellfish because molluscs e.g. oysters, are filter feeders and will concentrate contaminants from polluted waters. They draw water across their sieve-like gills, where contaminants like micro-organisms, heavy metals and organic material can accumulate. Sewage contamination appears to be the most significant cause of shellfish-associated illness. In temperate developed countries viral gastro-intestinal illness is most common.
Discharge improvements in the Solent have had a significant beneficial effect on microbiological quality of the shellfishery. Contamination levels reduced by factor of 10 or more at some sites - classifications improved from prohibited to class B (and A) in some cases. Intermittent discharges into some parts of the Solent will continue to have an impact from time to time. The Environment Agency monitors contaminant levels in shellfish waters to make sure they meet the standards set by the Shellfish Hygiene Directive. Whilst CEFAS monitors the quality of the shellfish themselves, hygiene controls are put in place through monitoring the quality of the harvesting areas, commercial processing and end-product. Depending on the CEFAS classification, shellfish may require treatment before being sold.