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Taking action to improve bathing water quality at Cullercoats

As the bathing water season gets underway, a multi-agency partnership is continuing to investigate why bathing water quality at a North Tyneside beach is not meeting strict standards.

Since the end of the 2017 bathing water season, the Environment Agency, Northumbrian Water and North Tyneside Council have been working together to identify the causes of the localised deterioration of bathing water quality at Cullercoats. 

The North East remains an outstanding place for bathing water quality, with 33 of the region’s 34 bathing waters rated either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ for the 2019 season.

Cullercoats beach itself remains a safe and popular destination and local businesses will continue to offer activities such as kayaking, windsurfing, canoeing and sailing for the enjoyment of local people and visitors.  

But members of the public are advised not to bathe until the investigations are complete and the bathing water quality returns to ‘Sufficient’, with advisory signage set to be displayed around the beach in mid-May. 

More than 500 hours and tens of thousands of pounds have been spent to try and find solutions after the bay fell short of water quality standards in 2018.

Compliance is based on the previous four years of sample data taken by the Environment Agency between May and September every year to assess the bathing waters against the strict regulations.  

A range of actions has been taken to understand and resolve complex issues on privately-owned sites and public spaces, as well as in the Northumbrian Water network.  

Actions taken by the partnership so far include:

  • DNA analysis to identify sources of pollution
  • 100 properties checked and 10 misconnected pipes repaired
  • 3,000m of pipe inspected with cameras
  • 150m of pipe coated with a special lining to prevent leaks
  • Suspected ‘pollution pathways’ inspected using a special dye
  • 80 highways gullies checked for misconnections and pipework failures
  • Six soakways / gullies sealed to prevent foul water entering the ground
  • Issues at private properties resolved
  • More than 200 water samples taken

The bathing water quality at Cullercoats dropped progressively from ‘Good’ in 2016 to ‘Sufficient’ in 2017 and ‘Poor’ in 2018. The deterioration is driven by poorer water quality in the later part of the bathing water season.

Richard Warneford, Northumbrian Water’s Wastewater Director, said: “We are very proud of the quality of bathing waters up and down the North East coast and the really strong results at 33 out of our region’s 34 bathing waters back this up. So, on the rare occasion when there is a deterioration in quality of the sea water, we do everything we can to rectify that.

“A joint investigation between the Environment Agency, North Tyneside Council and Northumbrian Water, which started in September 2017, is ongoing to identify and remedy the cause or causes of the localised deterioration of bathing water quality at Cullercoats. This work will continue until we see the desired improvements in quality.

“Together, we have already ruled out a number of potential factors and the Environment Agency has continued testing outside of the normal bathing water season, with results that show some signs for optimism.

“It’s important to note, however, that bathing water classification is based upon samples taken across four years. Therefore, while the majority of these indicate healthy conditions at Cullercoats, a number of historical spikes will continue to affect the overall categorisation for some time.

“On a positive note, this activity has identified and allowed proactive measures to be taken on a number of third party sites, as well as on parts of our network, that will help protect against potential future problems that could otherwise one day have a detrimental effect on the local environment.”

Phil Scott, Head of Environment, Housing and Leisure, at North Tyneside Council, said: “We are extremely proud of our award-winning coastline, beaches and bathing waters in North Tyneside and across the region.

“There are a number of complex factors to consider when the quality of bathing water is reduced and a huge amount of work is going on behind the scenes at Cullercoats to understand those issues and make improvements.

“Our investigations will continue until the water quality matches our aspirations and we would like to thank members of the public for their patience as that work continues.”

Fiona Morris, Environment Manager at the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “We work closely with our partners at local authorities and Northumbrian Water to understand what impacts on a particular bathing water’s quality and then carry out work to improve it, such work has already taken place at Cullercoats, and is continuing.

“We recognise this drop in standards is concerning, but we are committed to understanding the issues and are working with North Tyneside Council and Northumbrian Water to resolve them. We have been taking further bathing water samples throughout the winter months and are working with our partners in efforts to identify the source.”

Picture: Emma Seed