Ruth Stidson: Take plunge to improve water quality

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We’ve seen substantial improvements in water quality over the past 26 years across Scotland.

All the bathing waters originally designated in 1988 and 1994 reached the “mandatory” or “guideline” standard in 2014 under the former Bathing Water Directive. This is a vast improvement from the first year of monitoring in 1988 when 13, of the then 28, designated sites failed.

Later this year, at the end of the bathing water season, we will be reporting for the first time under the new Bathing Water Directive. Our estimates, and at this stage they are only estimates, show over 75 per cent of Scotland’s existing bathing waters would already meet the “excellent”, “good” or “sufficient” classifications.

So what does this mean for our local beaches in Edinburgh?

Portobello (Central) bathing water is projected to meet at least the “sufficient”, and potentially the “good”, classification when we first report water quality under the new directive, a great achievement considering the problems seen in previous decades.

A jump in water quality at this beach was seen at the start of the millennium when Seafield sewage treatment works was upgraded.

Improvements were also made to Joppa pumping station in 2007 by installing greater capacity pumps to reduce the frequency of discharges. In addition to this a programme of combined sewer overflow upgrading was carried out to reduce the frequency of discharges to the Braid/Figgate Burn, which flows between the Central and West beaches, resulting in improved water quality both in the burn and at the beaches.

Scottish Water has recently undertaken a study of both Portobello (Central) and Portobello (West) bathing water to determine whether asset improvements are required to meet the revised Bathing Waters Directive standards. The study concluded that improvements to five combined sewer overflows in the vicinity of the Portobello West bathing water and Braid/Figgate Burn are required. Designed to improve bathing water quality at Portobello (West) these improvements are likely to further improve performance at Portobello Central as well.

We sample and analyse the water quality throughout the season at both beaches. Whilst the classifications describe the general water quality we know we get day-to-day variation. On most days, particularly at the Central beach, we find the water to be of high quality but we do see deterioration for several days after heavy rainfall. At both locations daily water quality predictions are available at our electronic information signs as well as from our website, mobile website (www.bathingwaters.mobi) and Beachline telephone service (08452 30 30 98).

These real-time water quality predictions allow people to make informed choices about whether to swim, paddle or stick to the beach. Whilst the beach at Portobello (West) is not thought likely to make the “sufficient” grade yet, this summer the sign at the bottom of King’s Road will inform beach users as to the real-time predicted water quality.

Our challenge is to build upon the progress made under the previous directive to achieve corresponding improvements in 2015 and beyond through further investment and infrastructure improvements. We will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government and key partners to provide public information at our bathing waters and to protect, manage and improve areas where water quality is at risk.

Dr Ruth Stidson is a member of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s environmental quality team