Technology buoys up quality of seawater

A water quality monitoring buoy launched 400m off Hayling Island. Image: Southern Water/Peter Luckhurst

Water quality testing buoys launched into the sea off southern England will soon be providing the public with real-time data to help people decide whether or not to swim.

In a UK first, two innovative monitoring devices have been launched off Hayling Island, Hampshire and Tankerton shore, Kent, in a joint project between Southern Water, the Environment Agency, local authorities, technology company Proteus Instruments and the University of Portsmouth.

"We fully expect these kinds of devices to be the future of water quality monitoring."

Professor Alex Ford, University of Portsmouth

Water quality has become a massive public issue, with stakeholders calling for transparency from water companies, whose operations can impact seas and rivers. With outdoor swimming seeing a surge in popularity, regulators are expecting utilities to adopt new technology to deliver water quality improvements.

Equipped with monitoring technology from Proteus Instruments, the buoys have been launched around 400 metres off Hayling Island and 200 metres off Tankerton. They automatically measure water quality every few minutes, which Southern Water and its partners will openly share with the public later this year, once calibration and further testing is complete.

Image: Southern Water/Peter Luckhurst

Professor Alex Ford, University of Portsmouth, said: "We are delighted to be supporting this exciting project helping to calibrate the water quality buoy in the Solent.

"These devices, which have the capacity to monitor water quality in real-time on coasts and rivers, enable scientists to better understand the impacts of sewage discharges and the risks posed to recreational water users.

“We fully expect these kinds of devices to be the future of water quality monitoring by the water industry and regulatory authorities, with nationwide arrays providing substantial data which will benefit scientists investigating water quality, coastal development as well as climate change."

Image: Southern Water/Peter Luckhurst

The technology will also enable Southern Water to analyse water quality as and when concerns are raised, rather than relying on intermittent testing giving an overall rating of the quality of the bathing water, each season.

Ashley Clark, Canterbury City Council's cabinet member for enforcement and open spaces, said: "When it comes to dealing with sewage across the nation, there is a mountain to climb, and this will involve planners, developers and water companies coming together, as well as proactive government support to deal with the rainwater from development that gets into the sewage system and overloads current capacity.

"This is a welcome step in the right direction and will provide useful reassurance to ensure the locals and visitors who use our coastline can do it safely and with a greater level of confidence."

Image: Southern Water/Peter Luckhurst