Nearly a quarter of sewage discharges went unmonitored in 2021

Liberal Democrat analysis says there will be around 325,000 sewage dumps every year by 2030
08 September 2022 , By Katie Coyne

Holidaymakers may have been swimming in sewage without warning

Sewage pollution has hit the headlines again as analysis shows that many surveillance devices haven’t been installed, or don’t work 90% of the time.

In the last week of August, data from the Environment Agency was analysed by the Liberal Democrats, which found almost a quarter of sewage discharges were unmonitored last year due to missing devices or faults.

This could mean that holidaymakers using British beaches over the summer could have been swimming in water heavily contaminated with sewage without warning.

Three French Euro MPs also waded into the debate, claiming the UK was threatening health and marine life on the French coast by allowing raw sewage to be jettisoned into the Channel and North Sea.

The MEPs accused the UK of abandoning international environmental laws and are asking the European Commission to take “political and legal” steps to stop the pollution.

Of those beaches in England and Wales with working monitoring equipment, almost 50 flagged pollution alerts. This followed heavy rain where sewers backed up and the sewage overflow was washed into the sea and other watercourses.

A Defra spokesperson declined to comment instead pointing to comments made by water minister, Steve Double who said the Conservatives “were the first government to take action to tackle sewage overflows” and that water companies’ reliance on overflows was “unacceptable”.

He added that this was in addition to its “ambitious action” to consult on targets to improve water quality that would act as a “powerful tool” to clean up water and make water companies act.

The government says water companies must invest £56bn to tackle sewage problems over the next 25 years, and companies breaching the rules may be fined or forced to refund customers’ money

These plans include making water companies improve three quarters of overflows discharging into high priority nature sites by 2035, as well as reducing those going into or near bathing waters. The government has also said the water companies must invest £56bn over the next 25 years to tackle the problem, and companies found in breach of the rules may be fined or forced to pay back money to customers.  

However, Liberal Democrat analysis found that even with the new targets there will still be around 325,000 sewage dumps every year by 2030. And critics in other quarters have warned that the fines and refunds meant as deterrents will end up being paid for by water customers.

A Water UK spokesperson said: “England is the first country in the world to have established a comprehensive monitoring programme for storm overflows. Every overflow will be monitored by the end of next year allowing companies to target investment where it will be most effective.

“When monitors are installed, they go through a period of calibration until they are considered fully operational, this doesn’t mean they are faulty but that companies are ensuring they are returning accurate data.

“Companies agree there is an urgent need for action to tackle the harm caused to the environment by spills from storm overflows and wastewater treatment works and are investing over £3bn to improve overflows as part of a wider national programme to improve the environment between 2020 and 2025.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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