Scottish Executive Environment Group: Better bathing waters: meeting the challenges of the revised Bathing Water Directive in Scotland

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Meeting the water quality challenges

49. The revised Bathing Water Directive significantly increases the water quality standards which we need to meet. Four new classifications are introduced - Excellent, good, sufficient, and poor, based on concentrations of bacteria (intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli) found in the water. The good standard is broadly equivalent to the existing guideline standard.

50. Member States are required to ensure that by 2015 all bathing waters are of at least sufficient standard, and that appropriate measures are taken to increase the numbers of bathing waters classified as excellent or good. Classification is based on four years' worth of data, which means that results from 2012 onwards will be used in the 2015 classification.

51. Applying data from recent years against these criteria suggests that up to one-third of currently designated bathing waters in Scotland might be classified as poor. This is not only dependent on the quality of the water, but also on whether or not appropriate management actions are taken. A number of samples can be discounted in each year - the revised Directive allows up to 15% of samples to be disregarded - provided that the pollution is short-term, the failure was predicted and that authorities advised bathers appropriately. Most bathing waters which currently meet the guideline standards of the existing Directive are expected to meet the criteria for classification as excellent under the new Directive.

52. The area most at risk of having its bathing waters classified as poor is the South-West of Scotland. Whilst this can be partly ascribed to sewers in need of upgrading, a larger, and less tractable problem is that of diffuse pollution from agriculture. This is currently a particular problem in the South-West, where dairy farming is relatively intense.

53. The Scottish Executive intends to use measures and mechanisms which are either already in place or are currently being developed to tackle these problems.

Identifying risks to compliance

54. As a first step, and at an early stage in the process of implementing the new Directive, SEPA will be asked to identify risks to compliance at each bathing water. It is important to do this quickly, so that these risks can be included in the interim report of significant water management issues in each river basin district. This report is due to be published in 2007 as part of the River Basin Management Planning process associated with the Water Framework Directive.

55. This report will inform River Basin Management Plans and the bathing water profiles required by the revised Bathing Water Directive (see section ' Revised Bathing Water Directive - Meeting the public participation and information provision challenges').

Point source pollution

56. The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005 ( CAR) come into force on 1 April 2006, and will be the primary means by which activities that may influence water quality will be authorised. Bathing waters are recognised as "protected areas" under the CAR regime, and therefore SEPA will need to take risks to compliance into consideration when determining applications for authorisations of any point sources of pollution.

Diffuse pollution from agriculture

57. The Scottish Executive is currently consulting on measures to reduce diffuse pollution from agriculture. We are proposing that national General Binding Rules be introduced to ensure that all farmers adopt a basic level of good practice. These General Binding Rules will be mainly drawn from existing guidelines, and so should prove to be a light-touch form of regulation for those farmers who have already adopted this good practice.

58. Where the national GBRs prove to be insufficiently effective at reducing diffuse pollution, then further targeted measures may be taken by requiring higher levels of authorisation under the CAR regime. In particular, we are also proposing that from 2008, targeted General Binding Rules ( GBRs) will be applied in areas where there is a high risk of pollution.

59. However, measures to reduce diffuse pollution will not just be regulatory. The content of tier three of the Executive's Land Management Contracts scheme for farmers is due to be finalised in 2006. This should contain some measures to encourage farmers to invest in measures designed to reduce diffuse pollution. The results of the recent pilot projects will be valuable here. However, it is likely that the funds available for such schemes will be limited.

60. Diffuse pollution from agriculture is also a cause for concern with regards to compliance with other directives, such as the Water Framework Directive and the Nitrates Directive. Farmers will continue to be encouraged to adopt good practice, as outlined in documents such as the Four Point Plan, the Farm Soils Plan and the PEPFAA Code ( http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Agriculture/Environment/PEPFAA/Intro ).

61. Further evaluation of the various farm pilot projects is ongoing. This will provide data on the extent to which measures tested in these projects are effective.

62. The biogas and composting project has also modelled various scenarios for using this technology, including farm based plants and community based plants in both a traditional grazing scenario and a zero grazing scenario. Early indications are that adopting a zero grazing approach might provide the necessary economic conditions to make the biogas plants viable. Careful consideration of the conclusions of the research will be necessary.

Scottish Water investment

63. In February 2005, Scottish Ministers announced the objectives they wish Scottish Water to meet in the next investment programme, Quality and Standards 3. This Programme will run from 2006 to 2014 and will continue the work of modernising and improving the water and sewerage services in Scotland. These objectives include improvements to some 64 km of bathing waters to meet the microbiological standards of the Bathing Water Directive 76/160/EC. The Ministers' statement can be found on the Executive's website at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Water/17583/Investment .

64. The requirements of the revised Directive were not agreed at the time of planning the Q&S 3 investment programme. With the new requirements in mind, it is likely that the Scottish Executive, SEPA and Scottish Water will need to consider the implications for the water industry. Once this has been done, it will then be possible to determine if any changes need to be made to Ministers' objectives for the second part of the Q&S 3 programme post-2010.

Bathing water quality sampling

65. The revised Directive permits a certain amount of flexibility in sampling. A sample must be taken no later than four days after the date specified in the monitoring calendar. Many of Scotland's bathing waters are at the highest risk of pollution during and immediately following periods of rainfall. This flexibility allows sampling times to be delayed during such periods, when it is most unlikely that anyone will be bathing. It also means that sampling reflects the quality of the water actually enjoyed by bathers. It is the intention of the Scottish Executive that this flexibility should be used where necessary. However, this will present resourcing challenges for SEPA, as previous sampling has used a fixed timetable of visits to bathing waters. SEPA are undertaking a trial of flexible sampling in 2006, to better understand the issues that may result from introducing these changes.

66. It is required that following the classification of a bathing water as poor, the causes of the failure to achieve sufficient status shall be identified and addressed. To this end, following any such classification, SEPA shall be asked to investigate the causes, and to devise and implement an improvement plan. It is anticipated that this will be done within the measures described in the relevant Sub-Basin Management Plan.

Litter pollution

67. Whilst the criteria relating to the classification of bathing waters are bacteriological, other parameters must also be considered in the management of the bathing water. Amongst these considerations is the presence of litter pollution. This, of course, refers to its presence in the water itself. However, it would be naïve to ignore the direct relationship between a bathing water and the associated beach.

68. Responsibility for controlling litter on beaches is, in most cases, the responsibility of local authorities. It is important to recognise that these local authorities are legally required - and indeed are funded - to carry out this task, and that any other scheme which may come into being should not replace this obligation.

69. Nevertheless, it is equally important to recognise the important role which the local community has to play in this regard. This role can be positive - taking ownership of and responsibility for their local environment - or it can at times be destructive - contributing to pollution of the bathing water and its environs.

70. The Scottish Executive will explore the possibility of devising a scheme to encourage the involvement of local community groups by providing modest levels of funding in exchange for undertaking activities designed to improve the environment surrounding their local bathing water, including reducing levels of litter.

71. In considering such a scheme, the Scottish Executive will look to the experiences of schemes currently in existence, such as the Coastcare programmes in Wales and Australia, the Green Coast initiative in Wales, the Marine Conservation Society's Adopt-A-Beach scheme, the Atlantic Beach Guardian programme in Canada, and others from around the world.