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Bathing waters

Bathing waters

Northumbrian Water has invested £1 billion over the past two decades to improve bathing water quality in the north-east. In 2011 we were the first water company to have more than 90% percent of the bathing beaches pass the stringent Guideline standard. This year (2015) 33 of our 34 Bathing Waters met the tighter requirements of the revised Bathing Water Directive (97.1% compliance) which came fully into force. Our bathing waters remain some of the cleanest in England and Wales.

Nineteen of the North East bathing waters have met the Excellent classification (55.9%), 11 are classified as Good (32.4%), three as Sufficient (8.8%) and one as Poor (2.9%).

The method of assessing bathing water quality has changed from this year. Until now 20 samples taken by the Environment Agency in any current year have been used to establish if bathing waters meet either the mandatory standard or the stricter guideline standard.

From this year, compliance is based on the current and previous three years of sample data (80 samples) and is assessed against four new and stricter classifications of poor (failure to meet minimum requirement), sufficient, good and excellent. These samples are taken by the Environment Agency between May and September each year.

North East bathing waters which have achieved the excellent standard are Bamburgh Castle, Seahouses North, Beadnell, Low Newton, Warkworth, Amble Links, Druridge Bay North, Druridge Bay South, Newbiggin North, Newbiggin South, Blyth South, Whitley Bay, Tynemouth Long Sands North, Tynemouth Long Sands South, Tynemouth King Edwards Bay, South Shields, Seaburn (Whitburn North), Roker (Whitburn South) and Seaton Carew (North Gare).

Those that have achieved the good standard are Seaton Sluice, Tynemouth Cullercoats, Marsden, Crimdon, Seaton Carew (Centre), Redcar Coatham, Redcar Lifeboat Station, Redcar Granville, Redcar Stray, Marske Sands and Saltburn. Seaham Hall, Seaham and Seaton Carew (North) are classified as sufficient and Spittal is the only bathing water to be classified as poor.

It is worth bearing in mind that the bathing water results in 2012, when our region experienced one of the wettest years in 100 years, are reflected in this year’s results. The effect of that abnormal year will be removed from the assessment in 2016. We are not complacent though, and know there is more work to do to make sure bathing water quality in the North East remains amongst the best in the country.

This year Northumbrian Water has carried out work to increase storm water storage and reduce the amount of wastewater that spills into the sea at Seaham and Seaham Hall. A multi-million pound scheme has also been carried out to prevent wastewater from flowing into Skelton Beck and to increase storm water storage at Guisborough, both of which will improve Saltburn’s bathing water quality.

The water company is also planning to identify sources of pollution affecting the eight bathing waters in Seaton Carew, Redcar and Marske. This work will be completed in 2017.

Bathing water quality at Spittal is impacted by many sources, including pollution from the River Tweed. Further investigation work is to be carried out to understand the cost of required work to improve the water quality status to Sufficient.

In 2013 we extended our Real Time Spill Notification system to all 31 of the Bathing Waters where discharges from our assets might possibly have an effect. Our Beach Aware webpage shows which Bathing Waters may be affected by one or more discharges. This system is running all year round to provide information to our customers. This information is also being provided automatically to Local Authorities and to Surfers Against Sewage, so that their Safer Seas Service subscribers can keep up to date with seawater quality via their app.

Through working in partnership with the Environment Agency and Beach Managers we are investigating how to reduce pollution further from all sources towards improving bathing water quality.

Latest news: '£5 million bathing water scheme'

To find out more about the changes to the Bathing Water Directive click on the PDF below.

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    Bathing waters

    Information regarding changes to the Bathing Water Directive.


What is the bathing water season?

The bathing water season starts on the 15th May every year and ends on the 30th of September. The Environment Agency takes a total of 20 sea water samples at each of the bathing water location between 1st May and 30th September to a programme set before the start of the season.

What is a Blue Flag?

The Blue Flag award is an international voluntary scheme that a Beach Manager can apply for provided they meet the criteria set out by Keep Britain Tidy.

To qualify the bathing waters have to meet the tightest bathing water quality standards, but also have to meet provide services such as lifeguards, toilet facilities and safety equipment. They also have to provide information, access for those with disabilities and keep the beach clean.

What are the main changes in the revised bathing water directive?

The main focus of the revised directive is to provide more information to bathers about the quality of seawater. Bathing water profiles provide details of potential sources of pollution and identify the location of the bathing water.

The Environment Agency has issued a profile for each bathing water that can be accessed online at They include maps, potential sources of pollution, sampling points, photos and links to the latest water quality results to help the public make more informed choices about the best locations to visit and enjoy.

The new directive also introduces tighter quality limits to classify each bathing water from 2015. The sampling is based on sample results over four years instead of the sample results from the current year.

In terms of providing better information to the public about bathing water quality, we voluntarily took part in a pilot trial in 2011 at Saltburn to provide real time notifications of instances when sea water quality could have possibly been affected by our assets, such as from Combined Sewer Outfalls. We are planning to provide real time notifications at all 34 our region’s designated bathing waters by the start of the 2013 bathing water season.

Signs are to be installed by beach managers (such as your Local Authority) at all designated bathing waters to inform you about current bathing water quality and any potential pollution sources. There will also be temporary information signs used after incidents have occurred that may affect bathing water quality for a prolonged period.

We continue to investigate how we can improve bathing water quality still further and are committed to playing our part in contributing to all our region’s 34 bathing waters achieving the Excellent classification in the future.

What is Ultraviolet disinfection?

UV disinfection is an additional treatment employed at the end of a secondary sewage treatment works to reduce the number of bacteria remaining in the final effluent. NWL has 6 coastal sites with UV systems: Seaton Carew has been in operating since 31 March 2001 and the other five (Bran Sands, Howdon, Billingham, Marske and Hendon) since 31 March 2002. The Marske UV system is operated year round, Howdon from 1 April to 31 October and the four remaining during the bathing water sampling period (1 May to 30 September).

The UV irradiation reaches the microorganisms and impacts directly on their DNA. By changing the DNA the cell division of the microorganism is interrupted, so it can no longer reproduce itself and thus loses its pathogenic effect. With UV technology it is possible to destroy more than 99.99% of all pathogens within seconds, without addition of chemicals or harmful side effects; this is highly efficient and reliable. The sewage treatment works and UV system is designed to reduce the number of bacteria at the local Bathing Water(s) to a defined level.

The light necessary for UV disinfection is generated in special UV lamps and each lamp is enclosed in a watertight tube made of quartz glass which allows the UV light to pass through. There are approximately 6,000 lamps in total installed in our six plants. They are positioned parallel to the flow and the final effluent from the sewage treatment works is irradiated by the UV light as it passes between them. Limits are set by the Environment Agency on the suspended solids in the final effluent to ensure that the UV irradiation can reach the bacteria.

What is a CSO, Sewerage System or Sewage Treatment Works?

Further information regarding CSOs, Sewerage Systems or Sewage Treatment Works can be found within the Sewerage section of our website.

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Northumbrian Water has invested millions of pounds to improve the bathing water quality in our region over the past 15 years. Find out more

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