I am often contacted by constituents about the quality of water flowing through our taps as well as around our shores and creeks. There have been some real worries for mussel and oyster fishermen in the Fal estuary this past summer. High quality water is essential for our whole ecosystem as well as our health and sustains livelihoods for many Roseland residents from tourism to fishing and farming.
There are three organisations I work closely with to ensure they have the necessary resources and regulatory frame work to deliver high quality drinking and bathing water for us all. They are the Department for the Environment, Fishing and Agriculture (Defra) the Environment Agency (EA) and South West Water and we work closely together. I asked the later to provide me with a briefing of the useful information I thought you would like to know about.
I tried to condense it and failed so thought it best to give you the opportunity of reading as much or little as you wanted. Please do let me know if there is more information you would like to receive. Just scroll down…
…but before you do, I would very much like to thank Roseland Online for giving me the opportunity to write my monthly columns and thank you for contacting me with your thoughts, ideas, questions and concerns over the last year. I value all contact with my constituents and would like to wish you and yours a very happy festive season, wether you celebrate with water or something a little stronger.
Briefing from South West Water for Sarah Newton’s constituents
Bathing Waters (current directives)
- At privatisation South West Water inherited 227 crude sewage outfalls. This increased to 250 by 1993, when more outfalls on the public system were identified.
- Consequently crude sewage from 38% of the population served by the company was discharged untreated via marine outfalls (equivalent to 490,000 people).
- This number has been reduced to one crude outfall which serves three properties (0.0004% of the resident population).
- Approximately 866,000 of the 1.6 million residents in the South West Water region (54%) are now connected to 68 sewage treatment works with disinfection or long sea outfalls designed to help protect bathing and shellfish waters.
- In the nine years prior to privatisation South West Water Authority (South West Water’s predecessor, which also incorporated the functions of what is now the Environment Agency) spent £165million on sewerage and sewage treatment.
- In the nine years immediately following privatisation South West Water spent £837million on sewerage and sewage treatment.
- Over the past two decades we have invested over £2billion in our Clean Sweep programme, providing new sewage treatment facilities and closing crude sewage outfalls around the South West peninsula. We also have additional disinfection at 64 of our works – the highest level of treatment available – more than any other water company.
- At the time the South West Water Clean Sweep scheme was the largest company environmental improvement programme in Europe.
- Over 231 storm overflows to bathing waters and 228 to shellfish waters were improved as part of Clean Sweep and the AMP3 (2000-2005) investment, with more than 216,000 cubic metres (47 million gallons) of additional storage built at a cost of £75 million.
- 40 new sewage treatment works were built or improved to help protect bathing water quality, including those serving the communities of Bude, Fowey, Gorran Haven, Mawgan Porth, Pentewan, Perranporth, Portwrinkle, Penzance, St Agnes, Camel Estuary, Mevagissey, Porthleven, Looe, Seaton/Downderry, Newquay, Porthallow, Falmouth, Saltash, Camborne, St Austell, Cape Cornwall, St Gennys, Treknow, Bossiney/Boscastle/Tintagel and Polperro.
- Malcolm Bell, Head of Tourism at Visit Cornwall, has stated that: “There have been three major investments in the South West’s tourist economy in recent years – the Eden Project, the Coastal Path and Clean Sweep. And of these, Clean Sweep is by far the most important. Without Clean Sweep, the tourist industry would have been destroyed.”
- In 2014, all 82 bathing waters in Cornwall met or exceeded the European Union’s good (mandatory) standard and 75 (91.5%) met the excellent (guideline) standard.
- We remain committed to working with other organisations and local communities so that residents and visitors alike can continue to enjoy the South West’s beautiful beaches.
Combined sewer overflows
- Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are essential features of older combined sewer systems, mainly constructed before 1970, when it was common practice for foul sewage and surface water to be collected in the same pipe. CSOs are designed to operate when the background water levels in the receiving waters have risen sufficiently to provide substantial dilution and minimise the impact of any discharge.
- A CSO protects homes, gardens, roads and open spaces from sewage flooding, during times of heavy rainfall, when sewers and pumping stations can be overwhelmed. CSOs enable excess flows to be discharged into the sea, rivers and watercourses when they have additional dilution available due rainfall.
- All South West Water’s CSOs have to comply with strict European and domestic legislation and are regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) through discharge permits which prescribe the conditions under which they can operate, any screening requirements and whether the overflow events need to recorded and reported . All South West Water’s CSOs have EA discharge permits.
- In this region we have just over 1,700 CSOs and from 2000 to 2010 South West Water invested £75million to reduce the volume and improve the quality of discharges in the most sensitive areas including bathing and shellfish waters.
- Where poor bathing water quality is identified via EA sampling during the bathing water season, South West Water reports CSO spill data to the EA for the seven days prior to the sample. This is not a specific permit requirement but assists in identifying potential sources and unusual weather patterns that may have affected the catchment.
- South West Water also reports, at the end of each bathing season, CSO spill data to the EA. The data is reported for the period 1 May to 30 September as a specific requirement of CSO permits where the EA consider they may have an impact on bathing water quality.
- In this next five-year investment period (2015-2020), as part of requirements under the revised Bathing Water Directive, the Shellfish Waters Directive and for high amenity waters, we are installing more monitoring equipment at an extra 300 sites in line with new regulatory requirements to help better inform the Environment Agency and the public about the operation of our overflows to assist in assessing the factors affecting water quality.
- To significantly reduce the operation of CSOs further would require massive investment in our infrastructure either to store storm water and provide more pumping and treatment, generating significantly more carbon emissions or to engineer out the combined system by separating foul and surface water Therefore, if further improvements are required, our customers would expect there to be a strong cost/benefit case.
- It is important to remember that CSOs are just one factor with the potential to affect bathing water quality. Bathing water quality is also affected by urban drainage, agricultural run-off, birds and other wildlife, private sewers and misconnections – homes wrongly connected to surface water drainage instead of public foul sewers – as well as South West Water’s infrastructure. With the improvements already made and those proposed the balance of risks affecting bathing and shellfish water quality are much more mixed whilst their likelihood are all increased during wet weather.
- South West Water continues to work on innovative and proactive ways of informing customers about bathing water quality, through the industry-leading Beach Live (beachlive.co.uk) project.
- The Beach Live website, which was developed following consultation with Surfers Against Sewage, the Environment Agency, tourism leaders and beach managers, gives users live near ‘real time’ information about risks to bathing water quality at 40 beaches from the operation of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in the sewerage system.
- When significant overflows do happen – normally during or after heavy rain – ‘amber’ flags are posted on the site and beach operators, the Environment Agency and SAS are notified by email. Amber flags are removed and beach operators notified when there have been no further significant overflows over the next 12 hours. These ‘significance’ triggers are based on agreed criteria with the Environment Agency data and other partners.
- Each beach manager has developed signs to display at their beaches. The decision whether to display the signs lies with the beach manager in consultation with the relevant public health advisors.
- We also voluntarily share this information with Surfers Against Sewage, who use the BeachLive and the Environment Agency pollution risk forecasts to offer their members a text alert service.
- The company also hosts a biannual Bathing Water Liaison Forum and works closely with the Environment Agency, local authorities, beach managers and organisations including Surfers Against Sewage, the Marine Conservation Society and Keep Britain Tidy to promote local bathing water compliance.
Bathing Waters (Revised Directive)
- The European Union’s revised Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) came into force in March 2006 and replaces the current Bathing Water Directive (76/1160/EEC).
- The overall objective of the revised directive is the protection of public health, but it also offers an opportunity to improve management practices at bathing waters and to standardise the information offered to bathers across Europe.
- The directive introduces a new classification system with more stringent water quality standards and puts an emphasis on providing better information to the public on water quality and the risk factors that affect it.
- While water quality compliance with the new standards will be reported under the revised directive in 2015, other parts of the directive, such as signage and bathing water profiling, were implemented earlier with some already in place.
- Changes were made from 2012 to the types of bacteria analysed. In place of faecal coliform and faecal streptococci standards, the revised directive sets standards for Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci.
- During the 2012 to 2014 period the Defra and the Environment Agency reported compliance against the standards in the 1976 directive, based on the results of the new bacterial parameters. In addition they also predicted the compliance; for each bathing water, against the new standards.
- Monitoring frequency is currently weekly samples collected at the bathing waters’ monitoring point, with 20 samples in total collected per season. This frequency is likely to be maintained under the revised directive.
- From 2015 there will be four new classes for bathing waters used for the revised Bathing Water Directive. These will be:
- Excellent – approximately twice as stringent as the current guideline standard. Also the standard required for a Blue Flag from 2013
- Good – broadly equivalent to the current guideline standard
- Sufficient – approximately twice as stringent as the current mandatory standard
- Poor – below the sufficient classification. Bathing waters classified as poor will have advice against bathing throughout the following season. If a bathing water remains classified as poor for five consecutive seasons the advice will become permanent.
- The revised directive will use four consecutive seasons’ data on a rolling basis to assess compliance.
- Current predictions for the revised directive are based on data from 2011 to 2014, which includes the wettest summer for 100 years (2012).
- South West Water brought forward £20million of investment in 2014/15 to improve key beaches in the region that could be classed as poor under the revised Bathing Waters Directive in 2015 (see below). South West Water is the only water company to do this. This was not funded by Ofwat in the 2010-15 settlement and is being funded by company profit.
- In Cornwall as part of this programme, the company is investing £9million to improve bathing water quality at Seaton and East Looe in Cornwall. This includes increasing storm water storage capacity in the sewerage network in Liskeard to reduce the number of storm discharges during extremely wet weather and making improvements to storm storage and adding disinfection to Menheniot Sewage Treatment Works. Both schemes will be completed by March 2015.
- South West Water has invested around £57million to improve shellfish water quality since 2000 across the region. Under their AMP3 (2000-2005) guidance and shellfish waters policy the EA specified where and what improvements were required for each discharge improved.
- AMP3 requirements for CSOs were for containment to 10 significant spills per annum to help meet an operational water quality target of 1500 Ec/100ml for 97% of time. This was to support meeting category B under the shellfish hygiene regulations.
- In the Fal and Helford catchments, 42 CSOs were improved between 2000 and 2005 (AMP3) and a cost of approximately £2million. In addition ultraviolet (UV) disinfection was also added to the treated effluent discharges at Truro (Newham), Falmouth, Mylor, Ladock, Constantine and St Mawes sewage treatment works at a cost of around £2.5 million.
- In addition to the above further improvements, costing approximately £4million, were completed in 2006 at Truro (Newham) Sewage Treatment Works. This included upgrading the terminal pumping station, to reduce the frequency of overflows, and enhanced nutrient removal to help protect water quality from nuisance algal blooms.
- At Falmouth Sewage Treatment Works the process robustness has also been improved with a major refurbishment of the sand filters, final settlement tanks, improved aeration, inlet screens and reduction in saline infiltration in the catchment costing approximately £950,000.
- CSO spill performance is designed based on at least a 10-year rainfall series and includes some provision for climate change predictions.
- Helford Sewage Treatment Works was constructed in 2006, removing six crude outfalls. The scheme provided secondary biological treatment and an ebb tide discharge release. Gweek Sewage Treatment Works also provides secondary treatment. However, at least 50% of Helford estuary catchment is not on public sewerage.
- The total capital investment between made by South West Water in investigating and improving discharges to benefit water quality in the Truro River and Fal estuary to 2010 is approximately £
- In the Camel catchment, we invested £100,000 in 2012 on improvements to our sewers in Fowey to reduce saline infiltration issues affecting the estuary, which involved relining sewers and sealing manholes. From March 2013, any spills from the storm overflow at Fowey sewage treatment works have been treated with ultraviolent disinfection to minimise impact on the environment.
- Also in the Camel catchment, we have added UV disinfection to Wadebridge, Bodmin Scarletts Well and Bodmin Nanstallon sewage treatment works to help protect shellfish waters in the Camel estuary.
- In 2005, Golant Sewage Treatment Works was built with UV disinfection to help protect Fowey shellfish waters.
- In 2013, the company completed a £8million storm storage tank at Lostwithiel to further protect Fowey shellfish waters. It has a capacity of 1,220 cubic metres. This is in addition to the 200 cubic metres of storm storage capacity at Lostwithiel Sewage Treatment Works.
- All South West Water’s UV disinfected sewage treatment works are compliant with the disinfection requirements of their permits.
- Under the shellfish Local Action Group process, managed by Cornwall Port Health Authority (CPHA), high shellfish hygiene results are reported to South West Water and the EA. South West Water reports CSO spill data to the EA and the CPHA for the seven days prior to and including the date of the high sample result. This is not a specific permit requirement but assists in identifying potential sources and unusual weather patterns that may have affected the catchment.
- South West Water also reports annually CSO spill data to the EA, which is shared with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), who act on behalf of the FSA, as part of the shellfish hygiene annual classification process. CSO data is reported to the EA for the period 1 April to 31 March by 31 May. This is a specific permit requirement. The re-classification of the shellfish beds normally occurs in September (based on the previous financial year’s shellfish data).
- South West Water’s AMP5 (2010-2015) planning processes has highlighted that customer willingness to pay for improvements at shellfish waters is very low.
- Since 2013 designated shellfish waters come under the Water Framework Directive. Consequently any improvements are subject to disproportionate cost assessment by the EA of all measures that may be required to meet the shellfish waters guideline standard (which is actually measured in the shellfish). It should be appreciated that the shellfish waters guideline standard is a tighter standard than that used for the AMP3 investment (and not that the AMP3 investment has not delivered its objectives).
- AMP5 investigations in shellfish water catchments worth c. £1million were completed. This included c.£119,000 in Fal and Helford to advise the AMP6 (2015-20) programme.
- Recent sewerage network improvements of c. £65million in Truro will minimise internal flooding and remove infiltration, misconnections and improve sewerage performance, reducing the impact of any discharges to the estuary.
- We are also planning a £300,000 sustainable urban drainage project in Truro, which will use natural engineering to remove surface water from the sewerage system further upstream. The scheme will reduce pressure on CSOs, reduce highway flooding and improve resilience at the lower areas of Truro. It will be complete by the end of March 2015.
Business plan 2015-2020
- Our updated Business Plan for AMP6 (2015-20), which would see bills fall by even more than they would have done in our previous plan, was submitted to Ofwat last December.
- Bills could fall in real terms by 13% by the end of the decade, with more than half of this in 2014 and 2015. In addition we plan to increase our investment by 19% in real terms to £868m, in addition to having already accelerated bathing water protection (including Seaton and East Looe in Cornwall) into 2014.
- South West Water’s Business Plan was confirmed as ‘enhanced’ by Ofwat on 4 April 2014, before being ‘fast tracked’ for a draft price determination by 30 April.
- Highlights of our investment plan include (subject to final approval) further improvements to bathing and shellfish waters including:
- Bude Summerleaze, Par, Readmoney Cove, Crinnis, Crantock, Mounts Bay Wherry Town, Porthminster, Perranporth and Portmellon bathing waters in Cornwall
- Truro, Fal and Helford estuary shellfish waters
This will still be subject to EA cost benefit analysis under the Water Framework Directive and Ofwat approval. In discussion with the EA the proposed AMP6 investment will only target those assets where improvement will benefit meeting the guideline standard.
- £3.5million is proposed for the Truro, Fal and Helford estuaries in AMP6.
Subject to ministerial approval of the AMP6 expenditure the total investment made by South West Water into shellfish water quality in the Truro, Fal and Helford estuaries by 2020 will be c. £34.2 million.
- The development of a new Downstream Thinking scheme to cut the risk of sewer flooding and overflows, including Truro, Falmouth and North Cornwall.
Downstream Thinking represents a fresh approach to flood risk improvements and resilience on the wastewater side. It supports our 25 year vision to prevent harmful pollution incidents and flooding from our sewers.
This approach requires working in partnership with other parties (Lead Local Flood Authorities, EA, developers etc) to identify locations and solutions where multiple benefits can be delivered.
Solutions include sustainable urban drainage systems, sewer separation, contributions to major projects such as the Exeter Flood Alleviation Scheme, and continuing our existing approach to removing properties from the sewer flooding register.
Downstream Thinking is about long term planning partnerships with stakeholders, new ways of working, greater information sharing and communication.