Protecting Bathing Water Quality
On Thursday 4 December the Parliament will debate an Executive
motion on protecting bathing water quality. This briefing covers
this issue and related matters that may be raised during the debate.
Bathing Water Quality
The quality of Scotland's bathing water is important not only
for the public health of residents who use local beaches, but
also for the nation's credibility as a tourist destination. It
is self evident that swimming in sewage or animal waste is a less
than attractive prospect for tourists. The health consequences
can involve stomach complaints, infections or more serious conditions.
Whilst SEPA is responsible for monitoring our beaches the main
causes of pollution are sewage and agricultural residues. In response
to a number of EU Directives major efforts have been made to clean
up Scotland's beaches. The Executive can rightly claim credit
for significant progress, with the 2003 results the best since
monitoring began. Ayrshire has been a particular success given
the previous negative publicity. However, we should not be complacent.
Three beaches still failed the safety limits and five other popular
beaches would have failed if they had been officially designated.
The summer of 2003 was also relatively dry, which minimises the
problems of land run-off and revisions to the EU Bathing Water
Directive is likely to raise the standards.
Any debate on water issues at present is likely to inspire an
outbreak of Scotland's favourite political pastime - bashing Scottish
Water. In this context it is important to emphasise that sewage
is only part of the problem. Agricultural residues are in many
ways a more difficult problem to address.
Sewage treatment is being addressed through a substantial investment
programme. Not as substantial as is required to address all the
bathing water quality issues as quickly as everyone would wish.
That is because a programme of the size needed would have involved
even higher water charges and it is doubtful that the industry,
public or private, has the capacity to deliver a larger programme.
Bathing water quality is a good example of the need for investment
in Scotland's water and sewage infrastructure. However, this investment
has to be paid for. Either through water charges or by diverting
resources from other public services. Suggestions from the Water
Industry Commissioner (WIC) that this could be reduced through
further efficiency savings are a best misleading. His figures
are based on inadequate data and erroneous comparisons with England.
A country that has a very different environment and water structure,
not to mention the benefits of years of additional expenditure.
Even so they are now also facing substantial increases in water
charges to meet the needs of their different investment cycle.
Good progress has been made on bathing water quality although
there are no grounds for complacency. Like so much of the change
required in the water industry, the structures and investment
need much more time to have an impact.
For further information visit the water pages of our website
Or contact Dave Watson, Scottish Organiser firstname.lastname@example.org
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