Raw sewage dumped into England's rivers 'more than 300,000 times'

Raw sewage was dumped into coastal areas and rivers across England ‘more than 300,000 times last year’

  • Raw sewage was dumped into England’s seas and rivers 300,000 times last year
  • Water companies have been ordered to install monitoring at all storm overflows 

Raw sewage was dumped into England’s seas and rivers on over 300,000 occasions last year, despite an overall drop in numbers. 

The Environment Agency is tipped to publish figures on Friday showing that sewage from storm overflows reduced by a fifth in 2022. 

This reduction is said to be caused by improved practices from water companies as well as a dry year with a long summer drought, The Sunday Times reports. 

Rainfall was just 90 per cent of the long-term annual average.

Nevertheless, campaigners have blasted the 300,953 spills as ‘appalling’ – amounting to 824 spills each day.

Storm overflows put untreated sewage into the seas and rivers to stop drains overflowing, for example after heavy rain.

The length of time sewage was dumped into waterways also dropped by 34 per cent but was still sizable at 1.7million hours.

Amy Slack, campaigns manager at charity River Action said: “The government has let water companies monitor themselves and pollute behind closed doors for decades while defunding regulators that fail to enforce the law. The result: more than 600 sewage overflows free to pollute our rivers and seas unchecked.”

“Without transparent monitoring and severe penalties, profiteering water companies will continue to put public health and water security at risk.”

Storm overflows are “relief valves” intended to prevent overflow sewage leaking into homes during heavy rainfall – but recent headlines over how often they are used have provoked anger from environmental campaigners.

Former Undertones singer turned water activist Feargal Sharkey said: ‘It’s time to pull the handle, a full flush, a total restructuring of the industry all the way from No 10 to your local sewage overflow.’

Freedom of information data reveals that sewage pollution into rivers across England is still going unseen at more than 600 locations.

The government has ordered that all of England’s almost 15,000 storm overflows have effective monitoring in place by the end of the year. Around 96 per cent of these are understood to already be complying with this.

A growing population and an increase in extreme weather events driven by climate change has put increased pressure on England’s sewer system, much of which is aging Victorian infrastructure, pushing up the frequency of discharges. Pictured is pollution at a weir on the Jubilee River in Taplow last year.

But there is a large disparity in how quickly water firms have implemented monitoring equipment. The two largest blind spots for storm overflows are reported to be run by Anglian Water in eastern England and the northwest’s United Utilities.

Overall, Anglian Water has the lowest percentage of monitoring among England’s nine biggest privatised water firms, at just 86 per cent. One notable unmonitored site at Halesworth Bridge happens to be in Environment Secretary Therese Coffey’s Suffolk Coastal constituency.

A company spokesman said: ‘Those overflows that are near more sensitive sites or were more likely to spill were monitored first.’

In terms of absolute numbers, Utilities United is judged to be the poorest performer, with 250 sites yet to have monitoring equipment.

In contrast, Severn Trent achieved 100 per cent monitoring last year – 12 months before the government’s deadline.

A Defra spokesman said: ‘We have brought in comprehensive monitoring, driven increased investment and are taking tougher enforcement on those companies that breach their permits to ensure that polluters are held to account.’

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