Working for a better sea water standard

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BATHING water around beaches in the Scarborough area is going to have to satisfy a higher standard for cleanliness by 2015 to maintain a blue flag status it has been revealed.

But because the stricter EU legislation – the Revised Directive of Bathing Water – uses an average rating over the previous four years we are going to have to get our act together from next year.

Yorkshire Water, together with other organisations such as the Environment Agency and Scarborough Council, is currently undertaking the initial stages of a ground-breaking £110 million project to try to better manage the water system entering the North Sea along the Yorkshire Coast.

The project covers 100km of coastline which includes eight resort beaches out of a total of 20 designated beaches.

Lee Pitcher, Yorkshire Water’s bathing water strategy manager, said this was the biggest project that had been undertaken of its kind and the hope was to attain an excellent rating for waters in this area.

He said: “We aren’t aiming for a sufficient rating, we are going for an excellent rating and that’s been praised by Richard Benyon MP, the Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries.”

It is hoped that the work will make this area’s beaches the best in Europe over the next four years.

In this area the resort beaches are Whitby, Scarborough North, Scarborough South and Filey and Mr Pitcher said they were already at a good standard but there was no room for complacency because the new standards were twice as strict.

He added: “Currently, beaches are measured on a one year basis. The Environment Agency takes 20 samples between May and September. Instead of it being based on just 20 samples they are going to take a combination of 80 samples over four years.”

The bacteria is measured in parts per billion during the sampling process and it can come from domestic, agricultural and industrial sources.

Part of the work being carried out by Yorkshire Water contractors involves drilling 64 bore holes – between 30m and 120m deep – in the Scarborough area to assess the geological structure of the land.

And a team of archaeologists have been excavating finds – including an English Civil War cannon ball and a prehistoric flint tool – from various trenches around Scarborough Castle and the headland.

Mr Pitcher said: “With having this amount of investment, and having that backing in the first place, we need to start delivering it.

“We need to get the science right wherever we invest, it needs to deliver that improved classification.”

And, as part of the science, Professor David Kay and his team have worked for the past four years collecting raw data which will be used to produce computer models to help predict what is likely to result when certain conditions occur – like a weather forecast for the sea.

They have used techniques such as dye testing, sensors and releasing special tracers to monitor water flow and current patterns.

He said: “What we are trying to do along the Yorkshire Coast is to get the models as accurate as we can possibly make them. We can say ‘under those conditions we’d expect the beach to behave like this’.

“This is the biggest data collection anywhere in the world. The Americans are trying to do similar things. Defra said that the ability to predict the outcomes is important for maintaining blue flags.”

Richard Dannatt, from the water quality modelling partners Interlek Metoc, will be responsible for compiling the raw data to produce the computer models.

He said: “We can identify issues with particular bacteria and we can use the model to test different options to see which is the best one.”

So far the project has taken 15,000 man hours for data collection, lifted 20,000 manhole covers, inspected 450km of sewers and surveyed 65 pumping stations.

Scarborough Council spokeswoman Gabrielle Jandzio said: “This is one of the biggest projects we’ve been involved in – in terms of water quality. This is not only for tourists but for locals to enjoy the area. The blue flags are pretty important for coastal towns along the whole Yorkshire Coast.”