Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021

Britons bathing in sewage! Southern Water pumps waste into coastal bathing spots

A4 in London experiences flooding after downpour

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The water company released raw sewage into more than half of its locations around the southeast coast after heavy rainfall over the weekend. According to figures on Southern Water’s website, some releases lasted for more than 40 hours.

Due to the UK’s combined sewer system, designed to collect rainwater and sewage in the same pipes, the heavy rainfall caused an overflow.

Overflows are a fail-safe to stop sewage backing up into homes and streets, and are supposed to only happen in “exceptional” circumstances.

In 2020, overflows happened 403,000 times, compared to nearly 293,000 in 2019.

The Environment Agency said the increase in overflows is down to increased monitoring.

Charles Watson, chairman of campaign group River Action UK, has skewered the water company for its waste and sewage pumping.

He told The Telegraph: “While widely acknowledged as one of the worst offenders, Southern Water’s disclosures this weekend of multiple sewage discharges into the sea, as well as the many more into rivers that go unreported, will be telling the same story as all the other water companies up and down the country following a rainy weekend.

“It is just a scandal that this is allowed to happen as a matter of accepted routine.

“At the very least, it is imperative that the Government accepts swiftly the House of Lords amendment to the Environment Bill, which will bring forward the ultimate reduction of these horrific combined sewer overflows.”

Last month, the House of Lords passed an amendment to the Environment Bill which would place a duty on the Government and water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to avoid raw sewage being discharged from storm overflows.

It is currently unclear whether the Government will support the measure.

In Canterbury, Kent, there have been more than 20 releases of wastewater since Friday.

One from the Swalecliffe Wastewater Treatment Works lasted for more than 16 hours.

SOS Whitstable, which was launched two months ago to campaign against the pollution, has branded the number of releases as “endless”.

Elane Heffernan, one of the group’s founders, told Kent Online: “I have a disability and health condition, which makes swimming quite difficult, but I have been sick twice after swimming.

“One time at the beginning of August I didn’t realise there had been a release and for three days I had horrid symptoms. The second time was a couple of days after a release in September.

“It is really hard because I moved here to have a healthy lifestyle and swim in the sea but now cold showers are the only way I can get coldness circulating to help my health.”

At a meeting of the Arun District Council Environment and Neighbourhood Services Committee, Councillors demanded action from Southern Water, following public concern over bathing water quality.

Cllr David Edwards, chairman of the Environment and Neighbourhood Services Committee, told The Argus: “This is such an important issue and great to see complete support and unity in getting the best for our residents, for our economy and of course, for our environment.

“I don’t want Southern Water to believe it is right to just do what they like, but to take a more responsible approach to the management of sewage in our district.

“Our residents, visitors and marine and wildlife deserve this.”

Southern Water was fined a record £90million in July for the deliberate dumping of sewage off the south coast between 2010 and 2015.

A spokesman said of the recent wastewater overflows: “Public awareness of storm releases is growing and there are increasing calls for the highly regulated practice to end.

“We support these calls and have adopted a pioneering approach.

“While simply separating all sewers from surface drains would be a hugely expensive and disruptive process, we believe that a partnership approach is the best way forward.

“Regulation on sustainable drainage must be changed so rainwater separation is built into all new construction. Investment in natural capital, such as enhanced and expanded wetlands, will be key.”

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