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Lifeguard shares concerns after beach given ‘poor’ water quality rating

19 Apr 2024 6 minute read
Watch Tower Bay, also referred to as Watch House Bay, in Barry and Ogmore by Sea received ‘poor’ bathing water quality ratings after NRW studied a number of samples

Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter

A lifeguard has said he is concerned about the safety of people at a local beach after it was given a ‘poor’ bathing water quality rating.

Watch Tower Bay and Ogmore-by-Sea beaches, both designated for bathing in 2023, were given their ‘poor’ ratings by National Resources Wales (NRW) after sampling took place in that same year.

They are the only two bathing designated beaches in Wales out of 109 that have been given this rating.


Vale of Glamorgan Council is advising against bathing in these waters after elevated levels of bacteria were found – predominantly from sewage, agriculture and other sources – and signs have been put up notifying people.

Lifeguard and committee member at Rhondda Cold Knap Lifeguard Club, Geraint Rees, said his members have used Watch Tower Bay to train for about 20 years.

“[The rating] won’t go away after a couple of tests that have shown that the water quality is good.

“It is there now for the calendar season and the council have had to put up signs following regulations advising against bathing for the current season.

“The fact that these signs are in place means we can’t be taking our members into the sea on that beach because we have a duty of care to them.”

Geraint said the lifeguard club offers a range of activities for children and adults which help them keep fit, educate them on how to stay safe in the water, and keep others safe.

“Over the years we have done so much preventable actions and rescues off Watch Tower Bay,” said Geraint.

“Because we are not going to have that regular presence on the beach that year my concern is people who get into difficulty.

“Yes obviously members of the public could call the coastguard or the RNLI but time matters in these incidents.

“We are not there 24/7 but the we do have a regular presence when it is busy and the fact that we won’t be there could put people’s lives at risk.”

Rhondda Cold Knap Lifeguard Club has been based at Cold Knap Point since 1967.

The beach there offers an alternative location for the club to train at but Geraint said it is not as accessible as Watch Tower Bay.


He said: “It is hard going up and down those pebbles walking there yourself as a grown adult [never mind] trying to take children down there or carrying equipment.

“There is a lot more risk involved with that because people could trip or fall going down the pebbles… At high tide you are going into very deep water there because of the shape of the beach.

“It is not as safe as it is taking the children in at Watch Tower Bay.

“We have got to use the Knap to be able to keep things going.

“The other option then is Barry Island Beach… but then it is the issue of transporting equipment around to that beach, which at the moment we don’t have the capability of doing that.”

Water quality sampling was carried out by NRW at Watch Tower Bay and Ogmore-by-Sea during the bathing season, which starts on May 15 and ends on September 30.

The elevated levels of bacteria in the water tended to follow periods of high rainfall according to the council’s director of environment and housing services Mike Punter.

Many of the sewer pipes in Wales are combined, which means they collect wastewater and rainwater.

It also means that during periods of high rainfall overflows are more likely to occur.

Dwr Cymru’s managing director for waste water services, Steve Wilson, said at a Vale of Glamorgan Council environment scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday, April 16, that they “categorically don’t know” all of the sources of pollution coming from the River Ogmore.


He added: “It is our job now… to continue the investigation of where the sources of pollution on to that beach, where the sources of bacteria… are coming from and that is what we are working on.”

Mr Wilson said a “huge investment programme” is planned to tackle the issue of storm overflows.

The plans, which could involve £140m invested over five years from 2025 to 2030, are subject to approval by water services regulator Ofwat.

Dwr Cymru has also started work to see what can be done to improve storm water capacity at its Pen Y Bont wastewater treatment works on the River Ogmore.

Ward member for St Bride’s Major, Cllr Joanna Protheroe, said at the same scrutiny committee meeting: “We had six instances of overflows… [Ogmore] isn’t a new bathing beach.

“It is a very popular… bathing beach and it is used all year around.”

Another member of the scrutiny committee, Cllr Mark Hooper, said: “[Dwr Cymru] is a not-for-profit body but to all intents and purposes the way it is funding these services is out of a private body having to find ways of funding executive salaries that are not dissimilar between Dwr Cymru as they are elsewhere in the country and we are paying for what is a failure.

“You can’t be pleased if you are a swimmer who wants to swim regularly in those of those beaches and can’t.

“This is a massive disruption. I think swimming in the open sea is something that adds to people’s health and wellbeing and should be supported.”

Mr Wilson of Dwr Cymru said the company is also working on a system which will send automated messages to beach managers about storm overflows.

He added: “The management of storm water… is not just a water company issue.

“We are only going to solve this working together and our customers can help by looking at what things are happening to the water on their own properties.”

Vale of Glamorgan Council and NRW are working in partnership on a project that aims to develop a real-time water quality prediction tool to inform bathers at beaches in Barry.

Head of south central Wales at NRW David Letellier said the £1m pound project, which would eventually take the form of information displays at beaches, is in the final year of development.

In response to whether it is a development that could be expanded to other parts of the Vale Mr Letellier said: “I want the programme for Barry completed.

“I want it working well and then if we can expand… [that is] definitely something I am interested in.”

The council’s cabinet member for neighbourhood and building services, Cllr Mark Wilson, said he was very supportive of the project and will lobby Welsh Government for funding on behalf of the local authority.

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