According to the Environment Agency, water quality standards are being met in 99% of designated swimming spots in England.
The 2021 bathing season was May 15 to September 30. It covered 400 sites. 70% of beaches and inland waters were tested for E.coli and enterococci bacteria.
Another 24% were rated as good, and 4.3% received a score of sufficient.
E.coli and enterococci are often indicators of sewage contamination.
The latest figures were published Wednesday and compare to 98.3% in 2019, the last complete data set due interruptions in monitoring caused in part by the pandemic.
The Environment Agency began monitoring water quality in 1990s. Around 28% of bathing areas met the highest standards at the time.
In 2015, the agency made it mandatory for all water companies that they install storm duration monitors to track the frequency and duration untreated sewage discharges.
The public has become increasingly concerned about water quality over the past year. There have been headlines about the amount of sewage and chemicals that have been released into waterways, causing outrage.
Last summer, Southern Water received a record 90 million penalty at Canterbury Crown Court. This was for 6,791 unpermitted sewer discharges between 2010-2015.
After a public backlash, the Government had to reverse its decision to not impose legal controls upon water companies to stop them from dumping raw sewage in rivers and seas. This was in October 2021.
MPs were whipped to vote down an amendment in the Environment Bill, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs later stated that a duty to reduce sewage disposal would be enshrined into law.
The next month, it was revealed that water companies in England & Wales had issued 5,500 alerts about sewage being discharged into the coast waters in 2020, an increase of more than 87% over the previous year.
Surfers Against Sewage found that it made one in six days of official bathing season unsuitable.
Emma Howard Boyd, chair, Environment Agency, spoke out about the latest bathing-water figures. She said: We know that good water quality helps coastal communities prosper.
She added: We cannot afford being complacent. Public confidence in water quality has fallen in recent years, as new evidence of pollution incidents has received much-needed attention thanks to some excellent campaigning.
The polluter must pay. Water companies, industry, and farmers must get the basics right to restore trust or face legal action.
Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister: Our Environment Act places more protections for water pollution in place than ever before. We invest in programmes to support farmers in tackling water quality issues and we are clear to take tough action if water companies don’t step up.
Surfers Against Sewage was skeptical that any progress had occurred, pointing out that there had been a drop in the number of sites rated as excellent by a percentage point compared with 2019.
It was also critical about the fact that testing was not performed outside of the summer months and that water wasn’t tested for antimicrobial resistant bacteria and microplastics.
Surfers Against Sewage stated that there was only one designated swimming spot on an English river, which meant that people who swam in rivers were unaware of the danger to their health.
Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of the charity, stated that not only is progress slowing to improve water quality at our favorite spots, but also the testing regime designed to protect us is failing to give us an accurate picture of the state our waters are in.
We need to quickly overhaul the testing system to ensure that it continuously tests water quality for any pollutants, if we want to restore our blue spaces for the benefit of both people and the planet.
We must also see an increase in the number of UK bathing rivers to ensure that everyone has access to safe waters to swim in.
A Parliaments Environmental Audit Committee report published January 13 stated that England’s rivers were suffering from a chemical mixture of sewage, plastic and agricultural waste.
It blamed insufficient, underfunded and outdated monitoring. It called for urgent regulatory actions, investment from water companies, as well as tougher penalties for providers who violate the rules.
Sir James Bevan, chief executive at the Environment Agency, demanded Tuesday that the chief executives of the nation’s worst corporate rule-breakers face custodial sentences.
Water UK, the industry body representing UK water businesses, stated that current water quality levels were due to decades of investment and different sectors working towards a common goal.
According to the spokesman, the industry supports the creation of a network for inland bathing spots in rivers across England. He also stated that we cannot allow complacency or reverse this positive trend in water quality.
This won’t happen overnight. However, with targeted investments, effective regulation and the collaboration of other sectors, we believe we can do for indoor bathing what we did for coastal bathing. Water UK added.