An analysis of discharge warnings and meteorological data by campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) shows that so-called “dry spills” occurred “at a conservative estimate” at least 146 times when no rain was recorded between October last year and September.
The spills are intended to occur only during periods of exceptional rainfall to help the sewage system cope, with releases at other times potentially violating water company permits.
About 95 of the leaked water bodies were in locations where the water quality was rated as ‘excellent’, which ‘makes a mockery of the UK’s designated bathing water categorization system’, the SAS report said.
Southern Water was responsible for four times as many droughts as South West Water, the next worst culprit, SAS said.
During the same period, SAS issued 9,216 sewage pollution alerts through its Safer Seas & Rivers Service, which covers more than 450 beaches and rivers across the UK and aims to help the public make informed decisions about where and when to swim, surf or surf Paddle.
‘Sewage’ was filmed in the sea near a beach in Sussex earlier this year, Latest Page News Meridian’s Joe Coshan reported in August
A quarter (2,053) occurred during the 2022 bathing season and 39% of the cases of illness reported to SAS correlated with the alerts, the group said.
The SAS report comes ahead of data from the Environment Agency, expected next week, which will reveal the frequency and duration of water discharges in England this summer.
In recent years there has been growing public outrage at the amount of raw or partially treated sewage being pumped into Britain’s rivers and coastal waters.
SAS Head of Campaigns and Policy Amy Slack said: “Over the last year the British public has expressed disgust at what is happening to our rivers and seas and yet water companies pollute at will.
“It is particularly alarming to uncover evidence of potentially illegal activities by water companies in the form of ‘dry spills’ that are not permitted under current regulations.
“Shareholders and CEOs shamelessly profit from pollution.
“The Government is complicit in the sewage scandal and is failing to enforce and strengthen regulations to protect the health of Britain’s waterways – and the health of its citizens.
“Politicians are simply pushing the can away and legitimizing wastewater pollution for the next 27 years with the wastewater action plan published in the summer.”
A Southern Water spokesman said: “Storm outbreaks, which go a long way in reducing the impact of the type of flooding we’ve seen recently and are permitted by the Environment Agency, are down almost 50 this year compared to last year % decreased partly due to a dry summer.
“We are investing £2 billion to improve environmental performance and further reduce their consumption by increasing storage capacity and working with partners to reduce stormwater runoff entering the system.”
A spokesman for Water UK said: “Businesses agree there is an urgent need to tackle storm flooding. They will launch one of the country’s largest infrastructure schemes which, if approved by regulators, will bring £56bn worth of improvements to our rivers and seas.
“This builds on at least £3 billion of improvements in recent years alone.
“To further accelerate progress, we need the government to end developers’ uncontrolled connections to sewers without first knowing their capacity, and to end the flushing of wet wipes made of materials that prevent clogs and… cause fat mountains.
“Both are major causes of sewer overloading and spillage. We also need the government to implement existing legislation to increase the use of sustainable drainage systems in new developments to reduce the amount of stormwater entering drains.”
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