The CSO's are the safety valves in the sewage chain if you like, which
are purged during periods of heavy rain in order to prevent our domestic sewers and drains from backing up and flooding.
Water companies do however have permission from the Government to discharge a mixture of raw sewage and storm water run off from fields and streets into the seas around Britain whenever they chose.
Local cockle picker, Robert Griffith next to a CSO. Image courtesy of Panorama:
Closer to home, the programme focussed on the plight of the cockle pickers who make their living harvesting the cockles
at the Burry Holmes estuary on Gower.
This ancient harvest has been practised since Roman times but it's days are now numbered. Watch Robert's home video clip
here and make up your own mind.
As we all know the Gower is an area of outstanding natural beauty
and very popular with surfers, fishermen, nature lovers and water sport enthusiasts - myself included.
So it was distressing to see the plight of this estuary, which is being flooded with raw untreated sewage CSO's (combined sewage outflow pipes) in the area. We'd normally associate this kind of scene with an oil or chemical spill.
How often this happens - only the water companies know, but the beds are littered with thousands of dead shellfish...coincidence, perhaps?
The Environment Agency have yet to determine if the CSO's are the cause...
On the other side of this estuary, lies Llanelli beach which is unfit for bathing and just around the corner lies Llangennith beach where thousands of surfers enjoy the waves all year round, paddling around in who knows what?
Is the sea water safe? It's hard to know who to trust these days and it all depends on what day the sample was taken. In an ideal world, our beaches would be tested daily or weekly all year round.
It does makes you wonder how often the CSO's discharge assorted nasties during the Winter months when water quality is not checked so rigorously by the Environment Agency.
With a growing population (we're over 61 million now) and wetter Summers on the horizon, this problem is only going to get worse until proper investment is put into treating it.
It's not a new problem though, as this has been going on for nearly half a century....
In this day and age, it does seems bizarre that we still use an antiquated Victorian sewerage system which clearly can't cope with the pressures it now faces. Vast improvements have been made in sewage treatment plants and technology but this problem still remains.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and what you've encountered - good or bad on Welsh beaches in your area.
Do you have a CSO at your local beach which regularly discharges waste? GullCockle pickers galleryBBQ Summer washes up sewageBritain's dirty beaches - Watch againEnvironment AgencyMarine Conservation SocietySurfers Against Sewage