The sandy beach is long, sweeping and slopes gently, which on a low tide can result in the sea being some distance from the shore line. Pembrey is one of the UK’s longest beaches, stretching over 11 kilometres, backing onto the Pembrey Country Park. The beach is located within the Carmarthen Bay and Estuary Special Area of Conservation. The water quality sample point is located directly in line with the path to the beach.
Natural Resources Wales works with Carmarthenshire County Council and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to establish and reduce sources of pollution around Pembrey (Cefn Sidan) bathing water.
Inspections are carried out by Natural Resources Wales in partnership with the local authority and the water company. These are carried out pre-season (before the 15th of May) and mid season if required (during the bathing water season).
Within the catchment, there are a number of storm/emergency/surface water outfalls, that discharge into the rivers and ditches. After periods of rainfall these discharges could potentially affect bathing water quality. However, there is no current evidence directly linking discharges from these assets to reduced water quality at the beach. There are storm and emergency overflows at Burry Port, Pwll and Northumberland Sewage Pumping Stations. There are also a number of combined storm overflows on the sewer network that discharge either directly or indirectly into the Burry Inlet. These protect domestic properties from being flooded by sewage during heavy rainfall.
A project known as Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) is underway to install telemetry on Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) within 2km of a bathing water by 2020 so that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) know when the CSOs are operating and can work to reduce spills. One CSO near Pembrey is included in the project.
Since the 1990’s, there has been a great deal of investment in the sewage system along the north shore of the Burry Inlet. Recent improvements have included the provision of ultra-violet disinfection for some storm discharges and increased storm sewage storage capacity. Within the Loughor estuary and the wider the Burry Inlet, there are a number of storm, emergency, surface water outfalls and sewage treatment works outfalls.
Natural Resources Wales and Carmarthenshire County Council continue to work together to improve bathing water quality at Pembrey (Cefn Sidan) beach.
Natural Resources Wales staff meet with local community groups, to ensure residents are kept informed of possible issues impacting water quality and to discuss concerns.
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.
Phytoplankton (microscopic algae) naturally increase in number at certain times of the year. This process is known as a phytoplankton bloom. These algal blooms can occur at any beach during the bathing season and are usually noticeable by a surface scum. This beach has a history of such blooms.
The natural effects of the wind and tide within an estuary can mean that the water quality often reflects the quality of the stream or river, not the sea.
During and after periods of heavy rainfall, run off from both agricultural and urban areas will be greatly increased. Streams and rivers are typically affected by sewage or industrial run off from further up the catchment.
Pembrey (Cefn Sidan) bathing water can be heavily influenced by the freshwater of the River Loughor. This is illustrated by low salinity levels observed in some bathing water quality samples.
There are also numerous small streams and surface water drains that empty into the bay, which after periods of heavy rainfall can sometimes be a source of reduced water quality than usual. High flows in streams, rivers and sewers due to heavy rainfall can affect bathing water quality at Pembrey.
The main sewage treatment works serving Llanelli, is located at Bynea, about 14 kilometres from the designated bathing water quality sampling point. Both the storm and the treated effluent from this works are disinfected by the ultra-violet system. This ensures protection of the bathing water quality. There is also a smaller sewage treatment works nearby, serving Pembrey. This discharges treated sewage effluent, roughly 3 km from the designated sampling point.
Natural Resources Wales samplers make visual observations of the beach at every visit. This includes assessments of sewage debris, animal faeces, litter and oil or tar. At Pembrey, data are available for the four year assessment period from 2015-2018. Sewage debris was observed in trace amounts on over forty per cent of occasions and in greater amounts an additional three times. Trace amounts of animal faeces were noted at the site on a minority of occasions. Trace amounts of litter were observed at the bathing water the majority of the time and in greater amounts on more than an additional twenty per cent of occasions. Oil and tarry residues were not noted at this site.
The catchment of the Burry Inlet is largely agricultural with significant areas of land occupied by livestock.
This could result in a deterioration in water quality following periods of rainfall. Large numbers of sheep graze on the salt marshes either side of the Burry Inlet. Under certain tidal states large areas of the salt marshes are flooded.
Natural Resources Wales continues to work with private owners regarding potential pollution sources to the bathing water. This work involves where necessary, advisory mail drops, dye tracing, misconnection surveys and face to face meetings.
Poorly maintained private sewage treatment facilities could be a source of pollution, therefore the registration of all qualifying private sewage systems in Wales was required by 30 June 2012. The primary aim of this exercise is to provide increased protection for the environment and sensitive features such as bathing water beaches. Where discharges from properties are identified in the catchment that are not on mains sewerage, Natural Resources Wales will endeavour to ensure registration has been made, unless already a permitted discharge.
Due to the flat topography of the catchment, there are no streams flowing over the beach. The land nearest the beach, is a country park, operated by Carmarthenshire County Council, consisting of extensive grassy areas and pine forest. Beyond the park, the land is a combination of agriculture and residential housing.
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 Wales 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 Natural Resources Wales' role to drive improvement of water quality at bathing waters that are at risk of failing European 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. The following sections serve to highlight potential sources of pollution, conditions under which they may arise and measures being put in place to improve water quality.