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Bathing Waters Update

Bathing Waters Update Feb 2019This article is about a presentation delivered by United Utilities to Fylde's Environment, Health and Housing Committee last month.

Whilst we take issue with quite a lot of what was said by the speaker, we did think we could detect the start of what we suspect will be an unwelcome direction that United Utilities will take in the future.

It seemed to us to indicate they did not expect to do much more to extend or improve their sewage infrastructure, but rather that they had shifted direction to try to reduce the volume of rainfall that reaches their combined sewers - so they don't have to let those sewers overflow so often (with untreated mixed sewage and rainfall), into our rivers and the sea.

SYNOPSIS
We begin with a combined Background and Introduction to the matter of bathing waters, before considering What happened at the Committee and the start of the speaker's PowerPoint Presentation.

Partway through this, we offer Our Own Comments So Far. We next report the Question Time Session from councillors before giving Our Own Overall Take on what had been said.

 BACKGROUND AND INTRODUCTION

We did a major investigation into the Great Fylde Coast Bathing Waters Con back in December 2015.

It took us about three months of solid research to extract all the figures and show how they were being manipulated by discounting of samples within years, and the discounting of whole years of test results to avoid having to declare the true state of our bathing beaches.

The company, and their supposed regulator, and the Government, all seemed to accord more importance to not being shown to have failed, when in reality, the real problem ought not to be the risk of being fined for failure, it ought to have been a matter of concern about public health.

Remember that the 'fiddled figures' (discounting of selected sample results) always coincides with heavy rainfall.

This made it clear to us that, mostly because of the continuing increase in areas of housing and industry, even with the massive storage tanks that have been built across the Fylde coast there is STILL very significant seawater pollution occurring from what are technically called 'Combined Sewer Overflows' or CSO's, where the volume of mixed sewage and rainfall exceeds the combined capacity of the treatment works, the massive underground storage tanks and the miles of pipework. It is released into the rivers and the sea without treatment.

CSO's are rife in the UK's coastal areas, and especially so in the North West where the 1800's saw the growth of coastal resorts fed by new railways offering mass travel and catering for the masses in East Lancashire's cotton industry.

Sewer infrastructure in the resorts was not intended to cope with the massive growth that was to follow.

Until the 1960s it was believed to be quite OK to have all water (household waste water and sewage, and rainfall from roofs and roads and other hard surfaces) all going into one set of sewers.

But from the 1960s onward builders were required to have separate pipes for sewage and rainfall, because rainfall could be flowed back to rivers untreated.

This measure reduced the volume of combined wastewater that had to be treated in sewage works.

But of course, the rapid and extensive 19th and 20th Century coastal development (up to about 1960) left us a great legacy of combined sewers - that are now very disruptive (think the traffic disruption in the Highfield Road area for the last few of years) and very costly to try to change today.

From what we can see from a cursory look at the changes since our major report in 2015, the big sewer and storage infrastructure improvements which have been undertaken have reduced the number of times that overflows of raw sewage and rainwater flow into rivers and the sea during the bathing season ( which formally runs from May to September).

But to avoid declaring beach failures, there is still a need to discount samples in periods of heavy rainfall. This is done by placing short term notices out on promenades for a few days advising people against bathing for those days, then removing them when the flow of sewage and rainfall subsides.

Any samples taken during the period that the notices are in place may (and often still are) discounted from the test results.

It's a sort of 'get out of jail free' notice, used by those who ought to know better.

And of course, it doesn't even begin to address what must be the massive continuing flows of untreated sewage into rivers and the sea that happen during the period from September to May - when we get the most rain of all, and when no sampling is undertaken.

 WHAT HAPPENED AT COMMITTEE

This matter was raised by Cllr Roger Lloyd at Fylde's Operational Management Committee of 8th January this year. He was arguing for testing to be undertaken in the winter months as well.

The basis for his argument was not simply the risk of direct contact with polluted waters or beaches, but because of the airborne pollution all those exposed to the water droplets experience when they are whipped up by strong winter winds and coat both windows and the inside of our lungs with the associated contents of the seawater - including the harmful bacteria such as e-coli.

He made the point after a nice man from United Utilities had given a presentation about how well they were doing to clean up the bating waters.

We're going to look at this matter again in more detail in a future article, but a few things struck us that we thought we ought to bring to our readers attention at this time.

 THE POWERPOINT BEGINS

First, and most significantly the man from United Utilities wanted to get the message across that the sewage in the combined sewer overflows was so diluted by rainfall that it's not a problem.

We beg to differ.

His PowerPoint slide presentation also redefined various 'types' of water viz

  • Foul Waste which includes sewage, shower waste, and waste from sinks, dishwashers and washing machines etc.
  • Surface water Rainfall water, water from roof gutters, and water that fall on gardens and drives
  • Stormwater Surface water which has entered the sewer system and mixed with foul flows creating a dilute sewage solution

The last of these - Stormwater -  is a wholly new term.

We think it's probably been invented by United Utilities to try to make us think there is a difference between rainfall and 'stormwater.'

Commenting on this he said

"Stormwater. This is term that you'll hear quite a lot this evening. It is surface water which has entered the sewer system and mixed with foul flows creating a dilute sewage solution.

So a lot of connections are made, legally and illegally, into the sewer network system of surface water, so a lot of the historical network is based on a combined system, where surface water and foul sewage go into the same sewer.

New developments are now required by law to run on separate systems.

That's Stormwater."

In fact, it's plain unadulterated bull****.

There is no such thing as 'stormwater.'

Apart from the so-called 'grey water' from washing machines, showers, and sinks and so on, there is only foul sewage from lavatories, and water from rainfall that enters our subterranean drainage systems.

What's going on here is another step in the great con trick being played on the public.

United Utilities are trying to create a new term called 'Stormwater' - as though it was something different than rainwater.

It isn't different.

It's exactly the same except that in times of heavy rain there is more of it.

Just think about the underlying logic.

At what rate of flow or precipitation does rainwater become stormwater?

There is not, nor as far as we are aware has there ever been, a type of water known as stormwater.

What we have here is a company that is failing to meet the standard that it is legally required to provide without resorting to fiddling the figures, and is now trying to extend that con trick by pretending that 'stormwater' is something different and special  - something no-one can be blamed for, because it's an act of God.

This is really about United Utilities' failure to plan effectively and their failure provide the treatment and storage capacity that almost every other water company in the UK has already dealt with properly.

To a lesser extent, it's also about them not making enough fuss about the scale of housing development that's taking place across the coast.

He had some other terms for us as well
  • CSO Combined Sewer Overflow, a point in the network where excess flows are able to escape the sewer into a watercourse
  • Detention Tank A structure, usually below ground level which can temporarily store stormwater during periods of heavy rainfall to be returned to the sewer when the treatment works can take the flows
  • Outfall A pipe which allows flows which cant be treated or stored to be discharged to the local watercourse, thereby preventing flooding

He said the Combined Sewer Overflows had a weir or penstock system that either flowed automatically when the liquids reached the top of the weir, or where valves that were opened (either manually on site or via remote telemetry) which allowed flows over a certain level to be safely discharged into the environment.

We'd pretty much take issue with his safely discharged into the environment bit of what he said. And he must have thought that's what his audience would be thinking as well - because he added

class="pmisc1""It's worth noting that it's not raw sewage at that point, cos they only discharge at a certain level, and the sewers are reaching a point where they have to discharge to prevent flooding further up the system. And at that point, because of the amount of rain that's in the system, the sewage level has been diluted so greatly, you're talking 98% to 2% - in that region."

We've no idea where those figures come from, of their validity, but it's not the point anyway.

 OUR OWN COMMENT SO FAR

Just think about it.

If harmful bacteria from lavatory waste can still be a problem that's big enough to require the authorities to warn people against entering the sea - or even just paddling on the beaches - when it has been diluted by the whole of the Irish Sea, how can it possibly not be a concern when it's only been diluted by rainfall within the much smaller volumes confined by a combined sewer pipe?

We had another problem. We were not exactly sure how the last of his examples (an Outfall) differed from a CSO but helpfully he explained.

"Outfall Pipes. So where we do discharge, a number of points we have outfall pipes, some short, some quite long and hefty - you'll see some pictures and a video. Where, where we do have to discharge to avoid flooding of property and businesses, we send it via an outfall pipe. "

He didn't say much more on this - and it's not surprising.

What he's admitting to is that even with all the work they have done in recent years, there are still places where United Utilities have to open a valve to let raw sewage flow into rivers and the sea to avoid people's houses being flooded with foul water.

They have a choice here. Either they pollute rivers or the sea directly (whether close inshore or further out to sea), or they allow people's houses to flood.

The most obvious issue here is the one around Norbreck and Bispham where local people know it only too well.

But even more locally for us is the example of the overflow on the 'Detention' tank under Park View Road Playing Field which, when full, simply overflows straight into the Liggard Brook killing of virtually all the wildlife there.

So much for it being 'safely discharged into the environment.'

At the end of the nice man from Unite Utilities' presentation, there was an opportunity for a series of questions.

 QUESTION TIME

After not being able to answer a question from Cllr Louis Rigby about where the river Dow (as in (Dowbridge) started and ended because he didn't know the Fylde area well enough, he was asked by Cllr Frank Andrews what was stopping Fylde getting a bathing water quality of 'Excellent' as opposed to the 'Good' one they currently have?

(Cllr Andrews didn't mention the 'Good' result was using fiddled figures, so we remind our readers that the present 'Good' rating does still discount the worst sampling results).

After explaining the history of the bathing water regulations, the Nice Man from United Utilities said:

"Well, continuing the work that we've done, we've increased the storage, we've put new storage, detention tanks, in across this region and network, and improved the network. At Clifton Marsh we've improved storage, yeah,..."

At this point a councillor - we think it might have been Cllr Andrews - interrupted and asked about having more storage tanks, to which the UU representative replied:

"You can't have more storage tanks, because you've got to a point as I mentioned, I might have mentioned this to some of the Members before, when you get to a point building storage tanks on the network, yeah, the whole point of storage tanks is to store, and then allow that to return to the sewer system to be treated later on when the rain stops.

If you've got ten storage tanks in a network, and the rain stops, and they're all full, it takes a number of days for those contents to be returned. If you have another storm before all those tanks have emptied, you haven't got that ten tanks of storage, you've only got maybe three, cos seven are still full and haven't emptied yet.

So we need to improve...."

At this point several of voices were raised - seemingly in protest, and the young man continued

"....we need to be looking now at improving water quality by getting surface water out of our sewer network. OK?

So by improving SUDS [Sustainable Drainage Systems], and being quite strict on, UU being quite strict on people connecting surface water into the sewer network, that's one thing that we've become very intolerant of now.

We're much much stricter and are actually taking action against people who connect up contaminated surface water.

So where people have, in Morecambe for example we did some work there with what were call sort of old buildings the front hotels turning into en-suite facilities, and the easiest thing to do is to connect it to the nearest sewer, which is a surface water connection.

That's wrong, and we had to go and do the investigations, and pass the file then to Lancaster City Council to take enforcement action.

These are the things we need to be doing. We just have to get surface water out of the system, and get it to a watercourse or the sea without it getting into the sewer network. Yeah?....."

 OUR TAKE ON WHAT HE HAD SAID

There is an awful lot in what he said here, and we think we might have to go deeper into it in an article of its own.   But what seemed to us to be the case was that we were being softened up not to have what most of the rest of the country have, and that's 'Excellent' bathing water quality.

We didn't think his argument about not having more than ten tanks held water (pardon the pun).

What it shows is that the company does not have, and appears not prepared to have, sufficient treatment capacity for the volume of waste water that exists in its region.

We can see his problem though.

First, if you store all the combined sewage that you have insufficient capacity to treat, then you would need so many extra tanks that the millions of pounds it will cost to provide them will be unpalatable to consumers who would have to pay for them, - especially as UU have been claiming to have fixed the problem with what they have done already.

(So, people would ask, why would we need to see bills going up a lot again?)

More particularly however, is the cost of the electricity that United Utilities have to pay to work the giant pumps to empty their 'Detention' tanks and pump it to one of the treatment works.

So we think they're trying to shift the focus away from their failure to build sufficient treatment works, and their unwillingness to build more storage tanks.

It seems to us that by redefining the terminology, by advancing 'smoke and mirrors' arguments to cause confusion, they hope to pretend it's not their fault at all.

It is exactly their fault that they have failed to provide the treatment capacity that's needed.

It's exactly their fault that they are building massive piplines out to sea so they can discharge the raw sewage so far out that it 'might' not arrive back inland (who cares about the marine environment a mile out to sea?) so they stand less chance of being prosecuted, and it is exactly their fault that they continue to pollute or streams and watercourses with sewage, killing off the wildlife.

But they're not the only ones.

Their regulator, the 'Useless Environment Agency' is entirely complicit in what they are doing - by using its 'Environmental Permitting System' (This is nothing more than granting licence for UU to continue to pollute).

And Fylde Council has applied nothing like enough pressure to force the EA and UU to change their practices.

Excepting for what have been almost lone voices from Cllr Maxine Chew, Cllr Roger Lloyd, Cllr Liz Oades and now Cllr Frank Andrews, Fylde has been far too complicit in its part in the Great Fylde Bathing Water Con.

So unless something changes, we think the future for our bathing waters is not set to change much further, and we in the North West will have to learn to put up with being known as the 'Dirty Region' of Britain.

Dated:  12 February 2019

 

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