Raw sewage dumped on UK coast nearly 3,000 times in 12 months

Surfers Against Sewage has released its 2020 water quality data. It says that water companies are still routinely discharging raw, untreated sewage into UK waters, polluting the environment, and placing people’s health at risk.

The Water Quality Report highlights that water companies were responsible for almost 3,000 raw sewage pollution incidents at Bathing Waters in England and Wales from licensed Combined Sewer Overflows from 1st October 2019 to 30th September 2020, impacting some of the most popular beaches in the country.

Despite some water quality progress over the last 30 years, the UK still ranks a woeful 25th out of 30 European countries for Bathing Water quality.

The UK missed its 2020 target for UK seas to meet Good Environmental Status, failing 11 out of 15 indicators of good marine health. A massive 86% of rivers and inland waterways in England also fail to meet Good Ecological Status, so the report underlines the woeful state of water quality in the UK and the drivers of the destruction of blue habitats.

Southern Water has been highlighted by Surfers Against Sewage for failing to issue sewage spill notifications for the majority of 2020, putting thousands at risk. 21% of total reports of ill-health submitted in the report are from within Southern Water’s boundaries. In comparison to the 690 sewage spill notifications issued by Southern Water in 2019, the company only issued 79 alerts this year, says Surfers Against Sewage.

“Water companies consistently put profit before fully protecting the environment,” says Hugo Tagholm, chief executive. “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. This feels particularly horrifying in a year where we are all battling the Covid-19 pandemic, a virus that is being tracked through sewage works.”

Surfers Against Sewage is supporting the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne MP, who has proposed The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill. This Bill seeks to provide a framework for water industry reform to end sewage pollution, and to restore England’s rivers and protect water users. It’s due for a second reading in the House of Commons on 15th January 2021 and the organisation urges people to write to their MPs to support it.

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