Water company tells bathers visiting Bournemouth beach to ‘swim with your mouth closed’ to avoid SEWAGE

A water company told bathers they had to “swim with their mouths closed” to avoid swallowing sewage.

Ruth Barden, environment manager for Wessex Water, sparked fury when she made the suggestion at a council meeting in Bournemouth, Dorset.

Environment Agency director Ian Withers has also been criticized for saying reports of incidents of sewage spilling into the sea have been ‘sensational’.

Ms Barden claimed the media had misrepresented the issue despite 17 incidents of sewage spilling into the sea off the Dorset coast in a week last October.

Bathers visiting Britain’s first seaside resort have been told by a water company to ‘swim with their mouths closed’ to avoid ingesting sewage. Pictured: Surfers at Bournemouth Pier last year

Ruth Barden (pictured), environment manager for Wessex Water, sparked fury when she made the suggestion at a council meeting in Bournemouth, Dorset

Ruth Barden (pictured), environment manager for Wessex Water, sparked fury when she made the suggestion at a council meeting in Bournemouth, Dorset

Pictured: The Safer Seas Service map showing where to visit and where not to visit in Britain

Pictured: The Safer Seas Service map showing where to visit and where not to visit in Britain

Visitors to Bournemouth beach were outraged by sewage last year

Last year visitors to one of Britain’s most popular seaside locations expressed outrage at the dumping of sewage into the water.

A mum has said she won’t let her toddler go into the sea at Bournemouth Pier as she doesn’t want him to get sick. There are reports that sewage was dumped into the sea at 17 Dorset beaches in October, although it is believed to have been stopped afterwards.

Alexis Cook, 38, from Hertfordshire, brought her six-year-old son, Leo, to Bournemouth for the half-term holiday.

She said: ‘I read online there was a sewer problem but we came here to avoid it. It’s a real shame because it’s supposed to be one of the best beaches in the country.

“We avoided Clapton because we heard there was sewage dumped there. I wish I had checked all the other places it was dumped. It’s a good job, my son is happy to play in the sand because he won’t go in the water now, I know that. I don’t want him to get sick – with Covid and now this.

Surfers during the protest on the beach near Bournemouth Pier.  Dozens of surfers gathered at one of Britain's top seaside attractions last month

Surfers during the protest on the beach near Bournemouth Pier. Dozens of surfers gathered at one of Britain’s top seaside attractions last month

A 43-year-old mother-of-three, who lives near Sandbanks and was walking along the seven-mile promenade, added: ‘It is very disappointing to hear that water is being pumped here. We rarely come to this end of the coast as we are in Sandbanks.

‘It’s absolutely awful. If I had known, I would definitely not let my children swim in the water.

A resident of nearby Christchurch took to social media to say he had seen a “strange tint of colour” in the water at Avon Beach.

Janine Roberjot-Ray posted: “Went to Avon Beach and saw several people swimming. A family was letting their children ride on boogie boards so I showed them the warning. There was a strange color tint in the water. It certainly didn’t look inviting.

The couple spoke at a council meeting in response to dozens of sewage spills on the county’s beloved beaches.

Several council members were “shocked” by the response.

In a presentation to advisers, Ms Barden said: ‘The only way not to get sick from drinking water is to drink tap water.

“If you go swimming with your mouth open, it’s not bacteria-free, so that’s something to be aware of.”

“Not all discharges are polluting – all of our discharges are licensed and compliant and often have no negative impact on the environment.

“There has been a reasonable amount of misrepresentation about this in the media recently.”

Mr Withers added: “We have all seen the recent headlines from the BBC, the Guardian and others on industry performance and there have been several data releases which have drawn our attention to how we all depend on water.

“There’s a lot of misinformation and sensationalism about some of this data…”

Vikki Slade, a Liberal Democrat councilor who was at the meeting, said: ‘Wessex Water has failed to respond to residents’ concerns (about sewage spills) so we have decided to call them and the environmental regulator in the meeting.

“I was mortified to hear Wessex Water say the media had sensationalised it. And to hear them say, ‘Well, if you’re swimming with your mouth open, what do you expect?’

“It was a meeting between the parties and the mood was one of shock and disbelief. It was breathtaking. And the backtracking when we challenged it was so dishonest.

“Bournemouth and Poole are a regular destination for visitors during the summer months and these comments could be really damaging to tourism.

“We were saying that the massive dividends enjoyed by Wessex Water should go to improving water quality rather than going into the pockets of shareholders.

‘Their response was very, ‘do you want low water bills or not?’ They indicated that it would cost more to obtain better quality water.

“The water company and regulator need to take more responsibility – clean water is a basic human right.”

Conservative Councilor Ann Stribley added: ‘People move to this area because they love the ports, the waters and the beaches.

“We have hundreds and thousands of visitors if they say the water is reasonably good, but keep your mouth shut, I’ve never heard of anything like it and I’m really worried.”

Ms Barden said current legislation meant it was legal to dump sewage into the sea up to 10 times a year.

She suggested councilors should lobby the government to introduce legislative changes to address the issue.

Ms Stribley said it was ‘totally unacceptable’ that untreated water was dumped into the sea up to 10 times a year.

Environment Agency director Ian Withers has also been criticized for saying reports of incidents of sewage spilling into the sea have been 'sensational'.  Pictured: Bournemouth beach last year

Environment Agency director Ian Withers has also been criticized for saying reports of incidents of sewage spilling into the sea have been ‘sensational’. Pictured: Bournemouth beach last year

Vikki Slade (pictured), a Liberal Democrat adviser who was at the meeting, said:

Vikki Slade (pictured), a Liberal Democrat councilor who was at the meeting, said: ‘Wessex Water has failed to respond to residents’ concerns (about sewage spills) so we have decided to call them as well the environmental regulator at the meeting”

A spokesperson for Wessex Water said Ms Barden was “reiterating” Public Health England’s advice.

He said: ‘Advice from Public Health England and wild swimmers’ groups is to avoid ingesting river, lake or sea water while swimming as there will always be bacteria in the sea – wildlife feces and runoff from agricultural land, as well as regulated storm water overflows and treated wastewater discharges.

“Ruth Barden reiterated this advice and stressed that the only water guaranteed to be bacteria-free is tap water. If the bathing waters of the BCP zone are classified as “excellent” or “good”, this does not mean that they are without risk.

“Ruth’s Revolt explained that storm overflows operate under Environment Agency permits, which are designed so that releases do not impact water quality.

“Wessex Water’s online Coast and Rivers Watch system warns when they are running, allowing recreational users to decide whether or not to choose to swim at that time.

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have overflows, but surface water separation will require huge investment and disruption.

“We monitor and report all overflow operations; identifying those that could cause harm to the environment or public health, addressing those, and then progressively working on the others.

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