MORE public health signage should be displayed at beaches to reduce the risk of people entering polluted water, says Ian Liddell-Grainger MP.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, who represents Bridgwater and West Somerset, wants prominent signs about water quality displayed at designated bathing beaches.

His comments came after heavy rainfall led to UK water companies discharging untreated sewage into rivers and seas from storm overflows in August.

In Minehead, Wessex Water's storm overflow was used to prevent sewage from flooding homes and roads on August 16.

The discharge was mainly stormwater released with the permission of the Environment Agency, the company said.

Wessex Water is spending £3 million a month on reducing storm overflow usage, which it says have “no place in the 21st century”.

Somerset County Gazette: Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset. Picture: UK ParliamentIan Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset. Picture: UK Parliament (Image: UK Parliament)

Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “It is not, sadly, going to do much for the image of a seaside resort to display huge signs advising people not to swim but if companies such as Wessex Water are going to continue making our coastal waters so filthy by releasing sewage into the sea through storm overflows, then we have no option.

“The fact is that only recently has the extent of this problem been uncovered. It has been the water companies’ dirty little secret for a very long time.

“But now it is out in the open we need to step up levels of public protection. Not to do so would be to risk causing huge amounts of illness - and possibly deaths.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger believes the warning should be extended inland along rivers including the Parrett and Tone. 

“It’s always been a risky business swimming in these rivers because of the unavoidable run-off from farmland which they carry but if you then factor in the potential for sewage-related contamination as well, then clearly it becomes unacceptably hazardous,” he said.

“I also believe those warning signs should have the name of Wessex Water prominently displayed so that public can be left in no doubt as to precisely which company is causing the problem.”

Signage is already in place at many beaches based on water quality from beach profile information provided by the Environment Agency.

Councils can display additional signs based on information provided by Wessex Water on overflow discharges or bacteria from other sources, such as from wildlife or agricultural land run-off. 

Somerset County Gazette: Wessex Water's storm overflows were used at Minehead Terminus on August 16.Wessex Water's storm overflows were used at Minehead Terminus on August 16.

Mr Liddell-Grainger added: “I am told there are warning notices which are activated when necessary by volunteers at the designated bathing beaches such as Minehead, Dunster and Porlock Weir.

“I have never noticed these signs and I’m sure thousands of other people - many of them holidaymakers - have passed them without giving them a second look.

“We must make such signs and the message they are designed to convey far more prominent.”

There was no recorded vote from Mr Liddell-Grainger when MPs voted on proposals to place a duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers in October 2021.

A spokesperson for Wessex Water said: “Due to exceptional rainfall, the overflow, permitted by the Environment Agency, was in use during the evening of August 16 to protect properties and roads from sewer flooding.

“Bathing water quality at Minehead Terminus is of ‘good’ quality, according to the agency, and our overflows are only used during extreme rainfall.

“We agree that storm overflows have no place in the 21st century, which is why every month we’re investing £3 million to reduce storm overflows, starting with those that discharge most frequently or which have any environmental impact.”

The Environment Agency said it can be difficult to establish the source of pollution on beaches, particularly after a period of heavy rainfall. 

The agency is “currently putting extra resources” into investigating incidents of sea pollution but said “it is for local authorities to decide upon closing beaches to bathing”.