Blue Anchor is on the coast of Somerset overlooking the Bristol Channel. The beach is shingle and sand, and the water has a naturally cloudy colour. The beach has a shallow slope and a very large tidal range so that it can be up to half a kilometre to the sea at low tide. The Pill River enters the sea to the right of the Environment Agency monitoring point. The Carhampton Stream also drains to the beach to the left of the Environment Agency monitoring point.
In 2009 and 2010, the Environment Agency carried out extensive additional catchment monitoring in the Pill River alongside the routine bathing water monitoring. DNA tracing techniques helped identify the sources of faecal pollution as being a mixture of animal and human sources. The contribution from animals is greater when faecal levels at the bathing water are higher. This has helped us target further investigations to pinpoint pollution problems and improve the bathing water quality. The Environment Agency have also walked up the catchment to identify potential sources of pollution including misconnections, poorly maintained private sewerage systems, leaking sewers and unsuitable farming practices.
There is an emergency/storm overflow from the Blue Anchor pumping station that discharges into the Pill River at the bathing water. The operation of the overflow can lead to a drop in bathing water quality. 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/
The Wessex Water sewage treatment scheme for Minehead, which provides secondary treatment and ultraviolet disinfection, was completed in October 1999. Improvements were also made to the sewerage system to reduce the frequency of overflows at that time.
Watchet sewage treatment works (STW) discharges four and a half kilometres east of the Environment Agency monitoring point at Blue Anchor. Emergency overflows and storm overflows in Watchet were improved by the end of 2001, and secondary treatment was installed at Watchet STW by the end of 2002. The storm outfall at Bilbrook was also improved at that time.
The Environment Agency are working with Wessex Water to carry out a review of sewerage performance within the Blue Anchor area. The Environment Agency will make recommendations for further improvements to protect and improve the 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 9% of visits, with 91% of visits noting the presence of seaweed (macroalgae). This bathing water does not have a history of large amounts of seaweed (macro algae).
Wrongly connected domestic waste water pipes can also affect the bathing water quality. We have checked the local sewerage systems at Bilbrook, Carhampton, Old Cleeve and other areas in the lower catchment for misconnections. We have worked with Somerset County Council and Wessex Water to identify and rectify any problems.
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.
For the four year (2015-2018) assessment period where data is available, phytoplankton (microscopic algae) was not assessed as being sufficient to be objectionable, but was observed as being present on 1% of visits. 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.
8 warnings advising against swimming due to an increase risk of short term pollution were issued in 2018 for Blue Anchor West bathing water. These warnings were issued because of the effects of heavy rain on the water quality.
Streams and rivers are typically affected by human sewage, animal slurry and runoff from roads. The Pill River and Carhampton Stream flow across the beach at this bathing water and can affect water quality after heavy rainfall.
The outfalls from Minehead and Watchet STWs discharge four and a half kilometres west and east of the Environment Agency monitoring point respectively. These discharges are treated and designed to protect bathing water quality.
Environment Agency samplers make observations of litter present on the beach at every visit, this includes assessments of sewage debris, litter and tar. At Blue Anchor West for the four year (2015-2018) assessment period where data is available, sewage debris was not noted at this site. Litter was not assessed as being sufficient to be objectionable, but was observed as being present on 65% of visits. Tarry residue was not noted at this site.
Since 2008, the Environment Agency have been working with Natural England and farmers on Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) programmes to encourage better farming practices and improve water quality in the surrounding areas. CSF activity has included educational events for farmers, services and advice to farmers and land managers, farm visits and surveys of the area to identify pollution risks.
There are homes in the Blue Anchor catchment that are not on the main sewerage system and have private sewage treatment arrangements including septic tanks. Poorly maintained systems may result in sewage leaking though the soil to the river to the bathing water. The Environment Agency are working with private owners to ensure their sewerage arrangements adequately protect the bathing water quality. If any concerns arise, the Environment Agency will investigate and request immediate remedial action from those responsible.
The catchment surrounding Blue Anchor West is approximately 2,200 hectares. The Pill River and the Carhampton Stream enter the sea at the beach. The upper areas of the catchment are steeply sloping, whereas the lower areas north of the A39 are flatter. The steep catchment means rain runs off rapidly into the river and stream. Land use is mainly agricultural, including mixed livestock and a small amount of arable. There is also domestic and recreational land, small villages, and caravan parks.
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 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.