UK will have some of the cleanest waters in the world


Water quality has rightly been in the public eye for some years. As I have previously written, we now have in place some of the most stringent rules in the world to hold water companies to account and have mandated extensive monitoring of our waterways, which has almost doubled in the past 10 years.

The scale of monitoring means that for the first time ever we have a far clearer picture of the state of our rivers and coastal waters. While in the short term this might mean the situation appears to be worse than ever, the reality is this will ensure we can address every inadequacy and push water companies to do better. This will lead to the UK having some of the cleanest waters in the world.

Progress is already being made. I have been a proud supporter of the campaign to see four areas on the River Dart designated as bathing sites, and this week the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs gave approval to each of these applications. I am delighted that Dittisham, Stoke Gabriel, Steamer Quay in Totnes and Warfleet on Dartmouth have all achieved Designated Bathing Water status.

This means the sites will be subjected to regular testing from the Environment Agency throughout the bathing season, with the information gathered giving bathers a clearer picture and helping to improve water quality.

The Government’s announcement not only marks an intention to improve the quality of our waterways through a regular testing regimen, but it paves the way for new spots to be identified as bathing water sites. The next application round will be in Spring 2025 and I hope to see more sites in South Devon identified.

As someone who regularly swims both in our rivers and in the sea, I take water quality seriously. By recognising the scale of the problem, we can ensure we push the likes of South West Water to do all they can and speed up their programme of works. Already, millions of pounds worth of projects are underway in South Devon, seeking to improve storm overflow capacity and generally modernise the existing infrastructure.

It is widely recognised that we have gone from having some of the softest rules on water companies to now some of the strongest in the world. We are also pushing water companies to work with communities to improve local problems. I have been working with South West Water to address issues across South Devon, and in the last two weeks I have created and joined working groups to help alleviate local problems and reduce the number of sewage spills.

We are, to some extent, at the mercy of an old system that combines sewage flows with surface water drainage. However, real progress is being made and through working together, introducing a comprehensive monitoring system, implementing new measures that hold water companies to account, and designating more bathing sites, we are cleaning up our coastal waters and rivers.

It is certainly not a case of job done, but rather than play politics over the issue, it is surely better to acknowledge what has been done and how we are now addressing it. Water companies have been forced to clean up their act and the announcement this week regarding the River Dart shows we are taking positive steps forward.