Unexplained changes to inter-tidal waters at Bridlington could be responsible for the current poor rating for bathing water at the town’s South beach.
Poor is the lowest possible rating under the Environment Agency’s classification system. Since 2018, people have been advised not to swim in the sea at the beach following the detection of high levels of harmful bacteria taken from samples during bathing water season every year between May and September.
The advice is expected to remain in place for the rest of this year while experts on multi-agency partnership try to establish the cause. The issue has triggered concerns over its potential impact on Bridlington’s tourism industry and, until recently, a lack of data-sharing between the likes of the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water and local councillors.
No clear answers despite costly investigations
Uncertainty over the likely cause has also been fuelled by the fact that neighbouring beaches along the coast all have either good or excellent ratings. It’s a mystery that still needs resolving.
So far £2mn has so far been spent carrying out investigations in the waters of the Gypsey Race chalk stream, Bridlington Harbour and Bridlington Bay to try to identify sources of the bacteria, as they all flow into the bathing area. Checks to see whether any of the pollution could have come from faulty pipework at The Spa entertainment complex which overlooks the beach found nothing was amiss.
Adding to the puzzle has been an absence of any visible sewage debris during extensive monitoring at the site. It led some to question the impact of a 1,250-metre-long outfall pipe installed in the sea at the beach in 2014 as part of a £40mn investment by Yorkshire Water.
Connected to a new pumping station on the Belgrave Road promenade, this pipe is designed to allow storm water to be discharged in the sea. However, all of the most recent samples found with bacteria in them were recovered during last year’s prolonged heatwave when there was no rainfall at all, never mind any storms or flash flooding.
Yorkshire Water baffled
Lee Pitcher, Yorkshire Water’s head of partnerships, said: “It is baffling us because we have spent many years and lots of investment and we are still not there yet with Bridlington South. We need to find out what is causing it.”
He said there had been no storm overflows in the 72 hours before the collection of each confirmed contaminated sample last year.
“That says there is something else causing it. It’s not sewage from the overflows from Bridlington South that is causing the issue. A lot of investment went in from Yorkshire Water seven or eight years ago but it’s something else that is causing it at other times.
“We think potentially there is something happening in the inter-tidal zone but we need to understand that better. That’s in the actual beach zone itself.
“It feels almost like something has changed between when that investment was originally put in and now because we did so much work at the time to understand about the flows going out, the surrounding agriculture and the sewers.
“There is something else causing the issue and that’s why the next six to 12 months is about getting more data and analysis in and then understanding what that means. The work the Environment Agency is doing around tracing back the DNA of what is in those samples will hopefully give us a clear indication as to what might be causing that problem.”
The Environment Agency: no silver bullet
Martin Christmas, the Environment Agency’s area manager, said: “Our partnership is working with some of the top scientists in the country looking at some intensive sampling to try and understand the sources and pressures on those bathing waters. We still have some analysis to do involving our environmental DNA work which we carry out to understand the relative contributions from people, birds, dogs and agriculture.
“We still need to carry out that analysis. Do we have a silver bullet at the moment for Bridlington South which tells us why it has dropped to poor? No we don’t. We will need to continue that analysis over the next bathing water season to try to understand that and put in place remedies to get it back to the standard we are looking for.”