The Environment Agency carried out a survey of pollution sources on the west coast of the island in the early 1990s. Several small sources were found and the issues resolved to protect bathing water quality.
In 1999 the Environment Agency carried out a study of the Duddon Estuary to assess the key sources of pollution into the estuary that could impact bathing water quality. This led to improvements at a number of locations in the estuary. The Environment Agency assessed the Duddon Estuary again in 2006 for the ‘Improving Coastal and Recreational Waters for All’ project, aimed to tackle diffuse pollution from agriculture. Although the project was focussed on the Haverigg bathing water (to the north of Walney Island) actions taken on the Duddon Estuary have improved bathing water quality at Walney Biggar Bank.
In 2007 United Utilities, with the Environment Agency's support, completed a study of Morecambe Bay to assess the main sources of pollution to the bay. This included an assessment of the area around Walney Island. The study concluded that no further improvements were needed to the overflows operated by United Utilities in the Barrow-in-Furness area to improve bathing water quality.
The Environment Agency uses a DNA identification technique that helps to show whether sources of pollution are human or animal. This method was used at the three Walney bathing waters during 2010 and has provided information on appropriate future actions, including the impact agricultural run off can have on bathing water quality.
In 2011 the Environment Agency surveyed the catchment around Walney to identify sources of contamination. Where significant issues were found these have been investigated and improvements made where needed.
In 2015 the Environment Agency carried out an investigation on the impact of salt marsh grazing by sheep on bathing water quality. This has led to a number of the north west's bathing water being included in the pollution risk forecasting system to warn bathers of a predicted reduction in bathing water quality due to high spring tides washing animal manures from the salt marsh.
In 2013 United Utilities improved the storm overflow from Millom Sewage Treatment Works and the King Street Pumping Station to improve bathing water quality. Improvements were also made in 2013 to the storm overflows from the Barrow-in-Furness Sewage Treatment Works to improve bathing water quality. Improvements to the Rampside Pumping Station (to the south of Barrow-in-Furness) were completed in 2011.
Under the programme of work for United Utilities (from 2015 to 2020) all storm overflows close to bathing waters will have equipment installed to monitor spills to the environment. This will help to identify where bathing water improvements may be needed in the future. This bathing water is included in the Surfers Against Sewage “Safer Seas Service”. This service can alert you to Combined Storm Sewer Overflow discharges via a phone App and in addition, it includes the Environment Agency Pollution Risk Forecast warnings where they are available. Further details of the service can be found at - http://www.sas.org.uk/safer-seas-service/ and via United Utilities website at http://www.unitedutilities.com/Bathing-Waters-Map.aspx.
United Utilities has completed works on a number of outfalls to improve bathing water quality. In 1995 United Utilities improved the treatment provided at Barrow-in-Furness Sewage Treatment Works by building a new treatment plant and storm tanks to improve bathing water quality. In 2000 a sewerage system was built on Walney Island to transfer sewage flows across to the sewage treatment works in Barrow-in-Furness where it receives improved treatment. The transfer removed a number of untreated outfalls to the Walney Channel improving bathing water quality. Barrow Sewage Treatment Works was upgraded by United Utilities in 2004 to ensure outputs are treated and disinfected, and to provide storage to reduce the number of storm overflows from the works. Improvements have also been made to five storm overflows in the Barrow area to protect bathing water quality. Roa Island Sewage Treatment Works, located to the east of Walney Island, was upgraded by United Utilities to provide improved treatment in 2004.
To the north of the bathing water, in the Duddon Estuary, improvements have been made by United Utilities to Millom Sewage Treatment Works in 1996 to provide improved treatment and in 2003 to ensure outputs are disinfected to protect bathing water quality. In 2003, the existing disinfection treatment at Askam Sewage Treatment Works was upgraded, and disinfection was provided for the first time at Soutergate Sewage Treatment Works.
Improvements have also been made to four sewage discharges at Kirkby that have been transferred to Soutergate Sewage Treatment Works and to three discharges at Broughton to improve bathing water quality.
For the four year (2015-2018) assessment period where data is available, seaweed (macroalgae) was assessed as being sufficient to be objectionable for 4% of visits, with 82% of visits noting the presence of seaweed (macroalgae). This bathing water has a history of large amounts of slippery seaweed.
Modern sewerage systems have two separate systems, one takes foul sewage to sewage treatment, the other takes rainwater runoff through surface water drains to rivers, lakes and the sea. Misconnections occur when waste water pipes are plumbed into surface water drains instead of the foul water sewerage system. This can give rise to pollution when the waste water is discharged directly to the environment through the surface water drain. For example, a washing machine or toilet may be incorrectly plumbed so that it discharges to the surface drain rather than the foul sewage drain.
Between January and March 2012 the Environment Agency surveyed surface water catchments close to the Walney bathing waters to identify any sources of contamination. This work led to an investigation of three surface water catchments on Walney Island for misconnections by United Utilities during 2014 and 2015. The Environment Agency is working with United Utilities, the local authority and householders to resolve misconnection issues identified in the survey.
For the four year (2015-2018) assessment period where data is available, phytoplankton (microscopic algae) was not noted at this site. Phytoplankton (microscopic algae) naturally increase in number at certain times of the year. This process is known as a phytoplankton bloom. This bathing water does not have a history of phytoplankton blooms.
The risks to human health from contact, ingestion or inhalation with marine algae that currently occur in UK coastal waters are considered to be low. However, some individuals may be more sensitive and display some reactions.
A common marine algae found in UK coastal waters is Phaeocystis, which is often mistaken for sewage as it forms foam and a brown scum, but it is non-toxic.
This bathing water is subject to short term pollution. Short term pollution is caused when heavy rainfall or high tides wash faecal material into the sea from livestock, sewage and urban drainage via rivers and streams. At this site the risk of encountering reduced water quality increases after rainfall and typically returns to normal after 1-3 days. The Environment Agency makes daily pollution risk forecasts based on rainfall and tidal patterns and will issue a pollution risk warning if high tides or heavy rainfall occurs to enable bathers to avoid periods of increased risk.
The Environment Agency works to reduce the sources of this pollution through pollution prevention measures, work with agriculture and water companies.
35 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2018 for Walney Biggar Bank bathing water. These warnings were issued because of the effects of heavy rain and high tides on the water quality.
A step change improvement in water quality has been identified from 30th April 2013 at Walney Biggar Bank due to improvements made to United Utilities assets. Bathing water quality monitoring samples collected prior to this date shall not be used for classification.
Environment Agency samplers make observations of litter present on the beach at every visit, this includes assessments of sewage debris, litter and tar. At Walney Biggar Bank for the four year (2015-2018) assessment period where data is available, sewage debris was not noted at this site. Litter was assessed as being sufficient to be objectionable for 1% of visits, with 88% of visits noting the presence of litter. Tarry residue was not noted at this site.
The Duddon catchment, to the north of Walney Island, is largely agricultural with significant areas of land used for livestock. During and following periods of heavy rainfall, run off from agricultural areas will be greatly increased which could impact bathing water quality at Walney Biggar Bank.
Catchment Sensitive Farming, delivered by Natural England in partnership with the Environment Agency, delivers practical solutions and targeted support to enable farmers and land managers to take voluntary action to reduce diffuse water pollution from agriculture to protect water bodies and the environment. Actions include a programme of educational events for farmers, advice to farmers and land managers, farm visits, and surveys of the area to identify pollution risks. Catchment Sensitive Farming, an advice-led project, delivering targeted advice to reduce water pollution is underway within the River Duddon catchment. It enables farmers and land managers to take action to reduce the impact from farms on water quality.
There is a large BAE Systems shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness. During 2012 and 2013 two new secondary treatment plants were installed which have helped improve bathing water quality. The company is currently investigating a suitable method to separate clean rain water from the foul water on site to improve water quality.
A tidal clock system was installed at a caravan park on Walney Island in 2007 to ensure that discharges are only made on a high tide, when there is maximum dilution available for the discharge.
The ‘Call of Nature’ campaign was run by Morecambe Bay Partnership with the support of the North West Catchment Partnerships, which resulted in the development of user friendly materials to educate private sewage treatment plant owners into maintenance requirement and ways to identify causes for concern. Materials were developed as printed documents but also available on the web and mobile friendly web page at http://www.callofnature.info/
Seaweed (macroalgae) and phytoplankton (microscopic algae) are a natural part of the marine and freshwater environment. Below we note whether these have been recorded in quantities sufficient to be a nuisance.
The majority of sewers in England are “combined sewers” and carry both sewage and surface water from roofs and drains. A storm overflow operates during heavy rainfall when the sewerage system becomes overwhelmed by the amount of surface water. The overflow prevents sewage from backing up pipes and flooding properties and gardens. An emergency overflow will only operate infrequently, for example due to pump failure or blockage in the sewerage system.
Heavy rain falling on pavements and roads often flows into surface water drains or highway drains, ending up in local rivers and ultimately the sea. The quality of bathing water may be adversely affected as a result of such events.
It is the Environment Agency's role to drive improvement of water quality at bathing waters that are at risk of failing higher standards. It is natural for water to run off the land to the sea. Water quality at a bathing water is dependent upon the type and area of land (the catchment) draining to the water and the activities undertaken in that catchment.