A 10-month partnership project that has improved the quality of bathing water at Southend ahead of the summer season has been hailed a success by the Environment Agency.

The Southend Water Quality and Improvement Project was set-up between Anglian Water, the Environment Agency, Southend Borough Council, and the Thames Estuary Partnership to address the issues affecting bathing water quality in Southend.

Beaches along the Southend coastline are crucial to the local economy and communities; however some have historically experienced poor water quality, which can have an impact on shellfish businesses that operate in the area. One of the eight bathing waters in the area was at risk of not meeting the revised Bathing Water Directive when it is introduced next year. However, thanks to the work that has taken place, it is now predicted to reach the ‘good’ standard.

Bathing water quality in Southend was being impacted by diffuse pollution, which comes from activities within the catchment such as urban and agricultural pollution from rainwater running off those surfaces, poor plumbing practices, dog mess, and littering, with misconnected foul sewers the most significant factor towards diffuse pollution. A number of misconnected properties, including a newly built block of 40 flats which was entirely misconnected, were found and have now been rectified. Re-connecting these properties back to the correct foul drainage has taken tens of thousands of litres of polluted water away from discharging onto the bathing beaches.

A greater understanding of surface water outfalls in the area has contributed to an improvement in the bathing water quality results across the beaches in Southend. Between 15 and 20 per cent of the Southend sewer network has been assessed and mapped for the project, and many of the 53 outfalls along the seafront have seen an improvement in water quality.

The project set out to not only improve surface water quality discharges in the area, but implement a plan to tackle the problem in the long-term. It is hoped that the project will leave a legacy for local residents by helping them gain a greater understanding of how their actions at home can affect water quality at their local beaches, and equip them with the know-how to ensure this improvement continues. The ‘Clean Seas Please’ programme has now been launched locally and people can get further information about this at events across Southend over the coming months.

Lucinda Gilfoyle, Anglian Water’s Catchment and Coastal Strategy Manager said: “Last year we set out to find and fix many of the misconnected customer drains in Southend that were needlessly polluting the beaches, but it’s through working in close partnership with the Council, Thames Estuary Partnership and the Environment Agency that has really enabled us to make such a difference and achieve these great first year results. Diffuse pollution by its very nature comes from many different sources so we have to work together if we are to tackle the root of the problem. That’s why over the next five years we are planning to invest heavily in Southend to tackle this and make sure the bathing waters and beaches that we know are so loved by Southend’s residents and visitors remain open and a main attraction for the town.”

Matt Higginson, Environment Officer at the Environment Agency, said: “Thanks to the work carried out with our partners the Southend project was a real success. Over 130 misconnections were found and rectified throughout the project, including some that had outfalls leading directly to bathing beaches. Southend bathing water quality results for 2013 showed an improvement on 2012, however there is still lots more work to be done. I would encourage people to engage with their local environment and to understand how they can influence and improve their local bathing waters. Keep an eye out for a number of ‘Clean Seas Please’ events lined up in Southend over the summer.”

Cllr Derek Jarvis, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s executive councillor for tourism and culture, says: “The sea is so important to Southend, for residents, businesses and visitors alike and we take the quality of our bathing water very seriously. Thanks to the partnership work that has taken place between the council, we are predicted to meet the revised Bathing Water Directive and it is worth pointing out that we have also met the necessary water quality standards for the past 12 years too.

“The council will continue to do what it can to maintain and improve bathing water quality and I would also encourage businesses and residents alike to continue to consider bathing water quality and the impact that their actions can have on this, both negatively and positively.”