Beaches face tough new EU standards
England's beaches and lakes are facing tough new European standards for water quality as the summer bathing season begins, the Environment Agency said.
Last year, 99.5% of swimming spots met the basic standards for clean bathing water, with just two places failing to reach the mandatory grade, making the English coast the cleanest since records began, official figures show.
But one in 20 were on course to fail the tougher new EU standards, which come into force for the first time this summer.
The Environment Agency said the new tests would be twice as tough to pass as the EU tries to drive up standards, and appealed to water companies, businesses, farmers, local authorities and households to help reduce pollution and improve water quality.
The agency is beginning its annual summer testing regime at more than 400 beaches and lakes until September, with the results made available to beach-goers in almost real-time on the agency's new "bathing water explorer" website.
The EA said that major improvements to water quality had already been made, with water companies spending £2 billion since 1990 and pledging to spend a further £350 million over the next five years to help improve bathing waters.
By working with water companies, farmers and local communities, the agency pledges to improve more than 3,700 miles of rivers and 50 bathing waters by 2020.
Dirty bathing water can be due to agricultural run-off, sewage overflows, animal and bird faeces on beaches and households and businesses with badly connected drains, with the weather the main short-term influence on water quality as heavy rain can wash pollution into the sea.
Ed Mitchell, executive director of environment and business at the Environment Agency, said: "Water quality at English beaches is better than it's ever been after it reached record levels last year, and we are working hard with others to improve it further still.
"Good bathing water quality is essential for people's health, local tourism and economic growth, and everyone can play their part.
"We want water companies, businesses, farmers, local authorities and people living, working or visiting seaside towns to help us improve water quality."
As part of the new rules, from next year local councils will have to display signs on beaches telling would-be swimmers whether water quality standards have been met and if bathing is advised.
Bathing water quality can be checked on the new bathing water explorer website: http://environment.data.gov.uk/bwq/profiles