Just over 97 per cent of designated bathing sites in England met minimum standards in 2022, a slight drop on the previous year, data show.
A dozen sites, including the country’s only two inland rivers designated as bathing waters, have failed tests for bacterial water pollution by the Environment Agency.
Just over 72% of beaches and inland water sites met the “excellent” standard, the highest since tough new requirements were introduced in 2015, and up from 70.7% last year.
In total, just under 93% were excellent or good, and 4% were rated ‘fair’.
In total, 97.1% of the more than 400 monitored inland beaches and bathing areas achieved minimum levels of water quality, compared to 99% meeting the required standards in 2021.
Bathing water quality has become a hot topic amid concerns over how often water companies dump untreated or inadequately treated wastewater into rivers and coastal waters and reports the Environment Agency is reducing testing at designated bathing spots.
The Environment Agency (EA) said up to 20 samples are taken from each site during the bathing season, tested for bacteria – particularly E coli and intestinal enterococci – which can be harmful to health.
Since 2015, the EA has required water companies to install monitors at bathing sites, which collect data on the frequency and duration of storm surge discharges, when wastewater is released untreated into the environment to prevent storm surges from overflowing. drains in case of heavy rains.
The agency said the data has been posted online for the public to see, and more than 12,000 of England’s 15,000 storm overflows have monitors installed, with the remaining 3,000 installed by the end of next year.
Environment Agency chairman Alan Lovell said: “Public confidence in our bathing waters is vital to the tourism industry, as well as to people’s health and well-being.
“Overall, bathing water quality has improved tremendously over the last decade thanks to focused and robust regulation by the Environment Agency and the work done by others.
“In most places it is better now than it has been for many years, but there is still a lot to do to ensure cleaner and healthier water for people to enjoy.
“We know improvements can take time and investment from the water industry, farmers and local communities, but where the investment is made, standards can improve.”
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said: ‘I welcome the good news that more bathing water than ever has achieved the highest standard of excellence at just over 72% of all our bathing water – an increase on the last year – but there is still a lot to do to improve our bathing waters and we must not rest on our laurels.
“That’s why we’re going further and faster than any other government to protect and enhance these precious sites.
“We have introduced stringent targets to protect our bathing waters and new rules to crack down on water pollution will require water companies to roll out a £56bn infrastructure improvement programme, the largest in their history.”
The 12 sites tested which received a ‘poor’ rating include Scarborough South Bay, North Yorkshire, Bognor Regis (Aldwick) in West Sussex and Blackpool North, Lancashire.
England’s two river bathing sites are the Wharfe at Cromwheel, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, and Wolvercote Mill Stream, north of Port Meadow in Oxford.