Covered in The Independent

Most of the UK’s beachgoers could be swimming in dirty waters mixed with sewage due to outdated water forecasting methods, a new study has found.

With the growing popularity of coastal and wild swimming, there are increased concerns over polluted water flowing during the rainy season.

But existing bathing water forecast models, currently in use at over 600 designated locations in the UK, are insufficient to ensure public safety, the study published in the scientific journal WIREs Water has found.

Scientists from the University of Reading and Oxford University examined existing statistical models that produce early warnings.

They found most of these methods were outdated and failed to accurately predict pollution threats resulting from sudden downpours, such as sewage overflows and agricultural run-off.

Access the journal paper ‘Forecasting bathing water quality in the UK: A critical review’ here and read the abstract below


Climate change is altering rainfall patterns resulting in increasing variability and intensity of rainfall events worldwide. Increases to short duration, intense rainfall (i.e., convective rainfall), will lead to increases in sewage overflow and run-off from agricultural land. Such events generate spikes in micro-organisms from faeces and manure, especially Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci, that temporarily end up in bathing waters posing serious health risks to bathers. Forecasting of bathing water quality associated with convective rainfall presents a distinctive forecasting challenge due to high uncertainties associated with predicting the timing, location, and impact of such events. In this article, we review examples of bathing water quality forecasting practices, with a focus on the United Kingdom where convective rainfall in the summer bathing water season is a particular concern, and question whether the current approach is robust in a changing climate. We discuss potential upgrades in bathing water forecasting and identify the main challenges that must be addressed before an improved framework for bathing water forecasting can be achieved. Although developments in meteorological and hydrological short-range forecasting capabilities are promising, convective rainfall forecasting has significant predictability limits. We suggest taking full advantage of short-range forecasts to provide sub-daily bathing water forecasts, focusing on targeted bathing water monitoring regimes to improve model accuracy with the ultimate goal of providing improved information and guidance for beach users.

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