Tuesday 10 August 2010

Blue Flags Summer Sand and Sewage

This relates to the post “Surfers Against Sewage are calling for 5 Thanet beaches to be stripped of their Blue Flag status” click on the link to read it http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/2010/08/surfers-against-sewage-are-calling-for.html

This is a high profile news story that is potentially damaging to our economy and to the Blue Flag status of our beaches.

Unfortunately this article coincided with a sewage pollution incident in Ramsgate last month, frankly looking at the history of sewage pollution for the last 13 years – the statistics about this are available on the environment agency’s website – this sort of incident happens occasionally at a great many of our beaches and I would think on a great many beaches worldwide.

A similar incident happened in Margate, July last year, there is an interactive map on the environment agency website and by dragging the map around and clicking on the appropriate place, you can view details of any major beach in the country, click on link for it http://maps.environment-agency.gov.uk/wiyby/wiybyController?value=CT11+8NY&submit=Search%09&lang=_e&ep=map&topic=coastalwaters&layerGroups=default&scale=4&textonly=off

Anyway yesterday I contacted Thanet District Council to see what they had to say about the pollution incident and publicity about the Blue Flag status of our beaches, I was only able to get their response to the media coverage of the “Surfers Against Sewage” article, click on the link to read it http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/810/id3.htm

OK this is where it gets a bit complicated, as far as water quality goes the Blue Flag status is based on testing carried out by the EA over a number of years, click on the link for the Ramsgate main Sands tests http://maps.environment-agency.gov.uk/wiyby/wiybyController?latest=true&topic=coastalwaters&ep=query&lang=_e&x=638683.9583333334&y=164857.83333333334&scale=4&layerGroups=1&queryWindowWidth=25&queryWindowHeight=25 this is a reasonable scientific approach for this purpose.

The problem however is that one criteria for Blue Flag status (criterion 28 click on the link for the whole thing http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/810/id4.htm ) says that if there is a pollution incident, then the blue flag comes down and warnings go up.

Now the EA tests happen on a Monday and the results take eight days to reach the council on Tuesday week, this means that using this method any sewage spill will have probably gone away by the time the council gets the results.

One way around this would be local processing of test samples but even this wouldn’t help that much as the bacteria takes 24 hours to grow, so once again you probably wouldn’t really know until it was too late.

So now we come to the problem of where the sewage comes from, working on the principle of whoever put it in the sea would be likely to know that they had done so.

If you look at the picture above you can see that the discharge (red stripe) near to the main sands was a large one compared to anything that happened recently during the summer months which is when these tests are done.

The only source that I can think of that would cause these levels of Faecal coliform bacteria is the emergency discharge outfall pipe opposite Granville Marina (about where Nero’s used to be)

What this does is to discharge what is in the sewer there when we have a particularly heavy rainfall and the sewer can’t cope, I don’t think records of daily rainfall here are available on the internet, click on the link for the monthly ones http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/stationdata/manstondata.txt although these haven’t been made up to July yet.

During this period I was somewhat involved in concerns about the drains in Harbour Parade and believe I would have noticed any particularly heavy rainfall, we would be looking at one of the biggest summer storms in about ten years going on the previous records and I am sure this didn’t happen.

This then leaves us with some sort of accidental discharge, probably from the outfall pipe, my understanding here is that alarms should have been going off at Southern Water and that there should be some sort of procedure in place where they tell the council and the council put up signs at the beach.

Now the problem here is that if we don’t find a way here of alerting the council to serious sewage discharges and get them to implement the proper emergency plan, then we will lose our blue flag status.

I have tried contacting both the council and Southern Water about this, despite promises from both of them to contact me about this they haven’t.
Let me be clear about this, I don’t think this problem is peculiar to Thanet District Council, there are discharge outlets all around our coastline and the coastline of every densely populated part of the world.

What comes out of these pipes is regulated and controlled to a lesser or greater degree, this is dependent on a number of factors not the least of which is self regulation in industry.

It would be my guess that the situation in the UK is better controlled and documented than many countries.

Despite all of the legislation and apparent conformity to rules and regulations, we still appear to have a situation where it is possible to go to a blue flag beach, where nothing is apparently wrong and yet everyone is swimming around in sewage.

In Ramsgate I am conscious that this happened adjacent to where it is planned to build a major development without basic safety precautions strongly recommended by the environment agency.

In this case this can happen because the council have obeyed the letter of the law, the problem in this case and with the sewage leak is that these are safety issues, box ticking while ignoring public safety isn’t a viable solution.


  1. Michael, I don't know if there is any connection but in late June you reported on the leaky sewer in Harbour Parade and its subsequent blockage early in July.

    Perhaps putting 2 and 2 together to make 5, a pressure build up after the blockage could have caused a blow out to sea

  2. Readit it’s the old science and engineering hat again, the old leaking sluice and absorption into the chalk where the sewage was escaping couldn’t have accounted for a great deal of escape from this pipe, less that 100 gallons during a moderate storm I would think.

    It therefore follows that capping the pipe could only have diverted this much, heavily diluted with surface water, the sewers at this point are at a much lower level or the underground toilets would have been half full of sewage.

    There was the period when the pipe had been disturbed but not capped, but the sluice was left closed during this time, once again less than 100 gallons I would think.

    The results from the test would suggest a much larger quantity of sewage, thousands not hundreds of gallons discharged, the sea is large and dispersion is fast due to the tides and wave action.

    Take a look at this and I think you will agree that it is where the problem probably lies http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/2009/01/sewage-leak-in-ramsgate.html the outfall relief valve evidently is faulty and has been for several years, has been reported by me to TDC and I don’t believe any action has been taken.

  3. Unfortunately tdc doesn't like sorting out any problems; Tivoli brook has been contaminated by sewage for over 15 years, its tdc 's problem but they won't do anything about it. they don't have any chartered engineers and in the near future all the chickens will come home to roost and tdc will be well and truly broke.

  4. Where's Tivoli brook? It's not on any maps.

  5. First a blue flag, then a BLUE STICKER !

    I just noticed this morning that the sea water quality chart at Ramsgate Main Sands now proudly displays a small "blue sticker".

    I don't know if this blue sticker is new, or whether its been there a while (as I don't look at this chart very often).

    The wording of the blue sticker is as follows:

    "The bathing water quality at this beach may be lower after periods of heavy rainfall".


  6. 22.31 Tivoli Brook is part of the requirements of the Dreamland redevelopment i.e. that it has to be put right and the sewage discharge has to be cured.

    9.56 Small underground stream that discharges to Margate Sands, it is unmapped as are the Victorian sewers that discharge into it, we are talking about small amounts of contamination here.

    Gerald I have just popped down there and taken a picture of it and will bung it up with the rest later, I haven’t seen it before but like most people once a sign has gone up I read it and then ignore it.


Comments, since I started writing this blog in 2007 the way the internet works has changed a lot, comments and dialogue here were once viable in an open and anonymous sense. Now if you comment here I will only allow the comment if it seems to make sense and be related to what the post is about. I link the majority of my posts to the main local Facebook groups and to my Facebook account, “Michael Child” I guess the main Ramsgate Facebook group is We Love Ramsgate. For the most part the comments and dialogue related to the posts here goes on there. As for the rest of it, well this blog handles images better than Facebook, which is why I don’t post directly to my Facebook account, although if I take a lot of photos I am so lazy that I paste them directly from my camera card to my bookshop website and put a link on this blog.