According to the Environment Agency, water quality standards are being met in 99% of designated swimming spots in England.
Tests for E.coli bacteria and intestinal enterococci bacteria were conducted at 400 locations during the 2021 bathing seasons. 70.7% of beaches and inland water were rated excellent.
An additional 24% of the respondents were rated excellent, while 4.3% were given a score that was sufficient.
E.coli or intestinal enterococci found in water samples can often be a sign of sewage pollution.
The latest figures, published Wednesday, compare to 98.3% for 2019, the last full data set due in part to interruptions in monitoring resulting from the pandemic.
In the 1990s, 28% of bathing area’s met the highest standards.
The agency required all water companies to install event duration monitoring devices to storm overflows in 2015 to monitor the frequency and length of untreated sewage releases.
Public outcry has been growing about water quality in the last year.
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.
Following a public backlash in October 2021, it was forced to reverse its refusal to impose legal restrictions on water companies to prevent them from dumping rawsewage into rivers or seas.
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.
According to Surfers Against Sewage, it rendered one out of six days of the official bathing seasons unsuitable.
Emma Howard Boyd, chair of Environment Agency, commented on the latest bathing water statistics. Emma Howard Boyd stated: With billions of dollars spent each year on seaside visits, we know that good water quality is essential for coastal towns to prosper.
She added: We cannot afford being complacent. Recent years have seen a decline in public confidence in water quality, with new evidence of pollution incidents receiving much-needed attention due to some outstanding campaigning.
The polluter has to 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 programs to support farmers to address water quality issues and we are clear to take tough action if water companies don’t step up.
Surfers Against Sewage doubted that any progress had been made and pointed out that the percentage of sites rated excellent has fallen by a percentage points compared to 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.
Surfers Against Sewage said that only one designated site for bathing on an English river was available. This meant that people who swam along rivers did not know of the potential danger to their health.
Henry Swithinbank (political officer at the charity) stated: Not only are we seeing little progress in improving the water quality at our favorite spots, but the testing regime that is supposed to protect us is actually failing us to provide us with a clear picture about the state of our waters.
We need to rapidly overhaul the testing regime in order to ensure water quality is tested for all types of pollutants throughout the year if we want our blue spaces to be restored for the benefit of all.
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.
Parliaments Environmental Audit Committee published a report on January 13 that stated that England’s rivers were suffering from a chemical mixture of sewage, plastic, and agricultural waste.
It blamed inadequate, underfunded, and outdated monitoring and demanded urgent regulatory action, investment by water companies, and tougher sanctions for providers who break the rules.
Sir James Bevan, the chief executive of Environment Agency, demanded that the top bosses of the nation’s worst corporate rule-breakers face custodial sentences on Tuesday.