Thank you for contacting me about the quality of bathing water in the UK.
The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill proposes to enshrine into law a duty on water companies to take all reasonable steps to ensure that untreated sewage is not released into rivers and other inland waters. The Bill's proposers are seeking to support the Government in meeting its environmental commitments by placing obligations on the Government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to ensure compliance with this duty. I am committed to the environmental ambitions that the Government has already outlined, and I will look closely at this Bill and its provisions. I will continue to monitor progress in Parliament closely.
I have spoken up personally in Parliament for improved water quality testing, which is an issue that has impacted us here in Teignbridge with the dumping of silt at Sprey Point that went on to impact the beaches at Teignmouth. I will continue to prioritise the work with all concerned to establish a radical overhaul of the Cefas testing system. The dumping of Exmouth silt at Teignmouth has clearly demonstrated that, under the current circumstances, the legislation is not fit for purpose and actively works against a sustainable social, economic and environmental agenda for the region and indeed the UK.
I am pleased to say that water features prominently in the Government’s 25-year environment plan, which sets out priorities relating to supply, leakage, demand, consumption and the investment needed in infrastructure. I am aware that in 2019, the Environment Agency sampled 420 bathing waters in England. The Agency found that 98.3 per cent of the designated bathing waters tested met the Bathing Water Regulations’ minimum standard of “sufficient” with 71.4 per cent meeting the highest “excellent” standard.
While it is disappointing that seven bathing waters were classified “poor”, I am encouraged by the action being taken to improve designated bathing waters in England. Over recent years, hundreds of projects have been completed to improve bathing water quality and successfully drive up standards. As well as this around £25 billion has been invested to reduce pollution from sewage since water privatisation, covering improvements in sewage treatment and overflows. I also know that in England, between 2015 and 2020, water companies are investing over £3 billion to improve their sewerage infrastructure.
I must emphasise that the remaining “poor” bathing waters all have complex problems that require partnership working across Government and third-party organisations to rectify any issues. I am aware that sources of pollution identified in these instances ranged from sewer misconnections to sea birds, dogs, run-off from urban and agricultural land, as well as sewage from combined sewer overflows and septic tanks. I am pleased that the Environment Agency is working with its partners to look for solutions to these problems.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. I agree that this is an important issue which I will continue to monitor.