More than a dozen beaches in the Westcountry have failed stringent bathing water quality tests in the wake of the wettest summer for 100 years.
The washout weather was responsible for keeping more than tourists at bay, according to the Environment Agency.
They say that bathing water at 16 beaches in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, failed water quality results under the current European Bathing Water Directive, compared to just two last year.
Richard Cresswell, Environment Agency director for the South West, said the deluge had caused pollution from ordinary ground sources to be sluiced into the sea.
He said this had turned back the clock on previous improvements to the quality of bathing water.
“Bathing water quality has improved significantly over the past two decades, but this year’s significant rainfall over the summer has impacted on bathing water quality around the coast, particularly in the South West,” he said.
“During intense rainfall, pollution from farmland, roads and drains is washed into water courses that finally end up in the sea.
“Water companies also operate combined sewage overflows to prevent sewage from backing up and flooding people’s homes.”
The 16 sites which failed to meet the European standard were:
Devon: Instow; Budleigh Salterton; Exmouth; Bantham; Mothecombe; Plymouth Hoe East; Plymouth Hoe West and Shaldon.
Cornwall: Seaton; East Looe; Bude Summerleaze and Mounts Bay Wherry Town.
Somerset: Uphill Slipway beach near Weston-super-Mare.
Dorset: Kimmeridge Bay; Lyme Regis Church; Charmouth West.
The failures were blamed on the exceptionally heavy rainfall this summer – the second wettest since records began – which resulted in more pollution being washed into bathing waters.
Mr Cresswell said that due to climate change, these extreme weather events could occur more often.
The Environment Agency said there was still good news over bathing water as despite the appalling record, 92% of the 193 beaches in the South West still passed the European standards.
Mr Cresswell said that this was due to a number of factors, such as improvements in sewerage infrastructure by water companies, the Environment Agency successfully investigating pollution issues such as rural and urban run-off from land and detecting and dealing with misconnections to the sewerage systems.
Mr Cresswell said it was vital to prepare for new, tighter European regulations on bathing water which were due to swing into action in two years.
“This very wet year has re-emphasised that more needs to be done by water companies, businesses, farmers and local authorities to improve the water at Britain’s beaches and meet more stringent water quality targets, which will come into force in 2015.
“With even tighter standards for our bathing waters coming into force we really do need everyone to take action now.”
Graham Watson, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South West, said despite the failures the news was positive overall as many beaches had retained an “excellent” rating.
“Despite one of the wettest summers on record, which can have an adverse affect on water quality, the vast majority of beaches continue to exceed EU standards.
“Tourism is vital to our local economy so I am delighted nine in ten beaches have passed the quality test.”