Think we have all had enough… Guy Penwarden speaking for Dorset surfers and swimmers.

A water company’s environmental director has been criticised for warning sea bathers about “swimming with your mouth open”.

Wessex Water’s environmental director Ruth Barden has said people getting ill sewage discharges could be due to them swimming with their mouths open.

“The only way you will not get ill from consuming water is if you consume tap water; if you go swimming with your mouth open it is not free from bacteria, so that is something to be aware of”, she said

She was speaking to the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council’s overview and scrutiny board discussing recent pollution incidents.

Untreated sewage was discharged into rivers and the sea 28,994 times over 237,035 hours by Wessex Water in 2020, and 14,000, 107,731 hours between 1 January and 31 August 2021.

Apparently this had been “misrepresented” in the media.

Other notable comments included “Not all discharges are pollution.” and claim that discharges ‘often have no adverse environmental impact.’


Committee member Ann Stribley said discharges, of sewage with other untreated water, while not illegal under UK law, were “totally unacceptable”.

“If we are going to say the water’s reasonably ok but keep your mouth shut… that’s unreasonable, I’ve never heard anything like it,” she added.

Another committee member Vikki Slade added: “I have to say how disappointing it is to hear … [Wessex Water] telling us that if we go along with our mouths open we should expect to get infected – I’m mortified to hear that in a public meeting and it shouldn’t be acceptable.”

Committee members also said the outdated bathing water season testing of seawater quality was needed all year round rather than the current May-September period.

Ms Barden said volunteers were being used to take out-of-season water quality samples. Wessex made £68m profit in 2020/21.