Water Industry News

Water Companies ‘Routinely’ Discharging Sewage Into UK Waters

The health of the general public is being put at risk, as is the environment, by water companies that are routinely discharging raw and untreated sewage into waterways, with firms responsible for nearly 3,000 such incidents at bathing waters in England and Wales between October 2019 and September 2020.


This is according to Surfers Against Sewage’s (SAS’s) latest Water Quality Report, revealing that the UK missed its targets this year for UK seas to meet Good Environmental Status, while 86 per cent of rivers and inland waterways across England also failed to meet Good Ecological Status.


The report also drew attention to 153 water user health reports from individuals who fell ill after visiting rivers and oceans, with cases including eye infections, ear, nose and throat infections, gastroenteritis and, in some instances, more serious long-term health conditions.


Other highlights included an additional 2,642 pollution risk warnings, in addition to the sewage discharge notifications. Fundamental flaws were also revealed in the water quality testing regime and Bathing Water classification.


Chief executive of SAS Hugo Tagholm said: “This report demonstrates that rivers and oceans are being treated like open sewers as combined sewer overflows are used as a routine method for disposing of sewage, instead of in the exceptional circumstances under which it is permitted.


“Even worse, some – like Southern Water – are not even notifying the public when they do this so people cannot make informed decisions about their own health.”


The SAS is now calling for nature-based solutions to the problem of sewage pollution, with greater levels of investment and targets set in place to restore natural habitats and reduce pressure on water systems, helping to prevent sewer overflows and increase biodiversity, while tackling climate change.


It also wants to see an environment bill that surpasses EU water quality standards, as well as legislation that sets ambitious and legally binding targets to end the practice of untreated sewage discharge in bathing waters by 2030.


The SAS has just delivered its #EndSewagePollution petition to Parliament, signed by 44,691 people, calling for an end to sewage pollution and the guarantee of safe rivers and seas all year round.


The government responded, saying that a task force had been set up to address the problem of storm overflows, as well as investigating changes to planning legislation and stopping the connection of surface water drainage to sewage systems.


It also explained that it is looking into how agricultural policies could be adopted to deal with the issues of agricultural runoff into rivers and the ocean.


Mr Tagholm commented on this latest development, saying that the petition is evidence that members of the general public are keen to see the government take more action to protect waterways, not just for them but for wildlife, as well.


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