Water companies continue to produce ‘potentially illegal’ wastewater, activists say

UK water companies have released raw sewage into local waterways nearly 150 times in the last year, according to the Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) campaign.

Its 2022 water quality report uncovers “potentially illegal” wastewater discharges along with more than 700 cases of illness attributed to the releases.

The report used rainfall data to investigate potentially illegal “dry spills”: Sewage outflows are typically only permitted in the event of unusually heavy rainfall when the infrastructure cannot cope.

Southern Water has been responsible for four times as many dry spills as the next worst offender, South West Water, SAS said.

The analysis also shows that some water companies have dumped untreated sewage into waterways even when there has been no rain. This summer, SAS said there were 5,504 incidents of raw sewage being discharged into bathing waters over a period that collectively lasted for more than 15,000 hours.

Untreated sewage contaminated beaches and riverbanks that water enthusiasts, vacationers and families used for recreational activities throughout the summer.

The report also noted 103 times that sewage overflows had occurred in bathing waters across England, yet the companies responsible failed to report their activity for a period of more than two weeks during the bathing season. It was found that approximately 44 wastewater overflows were left completely unmonitored during the entire season.

Water company chief executives were paid a total of £16.5m in the last financial year, while shareholders received a total of £965m despite all but one of the water companies making losses this year.

“Shareholders and CEOs shamelessly profit from pollution. And the Government is complicit in the wastewater scandal, by failing to enforce and enforce regulations to protect the health of the UK’s waterways and the health of its citizens,” said Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns and Advocacy. policies at SAS.

“Politicians are simply kicking the can along the way, legitimizing wastewater pollution for the next 27 years, through the wastewater action plan released this summer.”

Elsewhere in the report, some 400 reports of illness from people who swam and surfed in the bathing waters were identified.

A total of around 720 complaints of illness have been received, from users who have fallen ill after immersing themselves in water in the last year, with over 70% of them suffering from symptoms of gastroenteritis, including persistent diarrhea and vomiting.

Some of the worst cases of the disease included leptospirosis and kidney failure.

Two-thirds of cases who saw their doctor attributed their illness to exposure to contaminated water, and many reported being hospitalized. A third of the reports were directly linked to a sewage spill.

A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “Storm-driven releases, which go a long way towards reducing the impact of the type of flooding we’ve seen recently and which is permitted by the Environment Agency, have been reduced by almost 50%. this year compared to last, partly due to a dry summer.

“We are investing £2bn to improve environmental performance and further reduce its use by increasing storage capacity and working with partners to reduce runoff from rain entering the system.”

A Defra spokesman said: “Our stormwater reduction plan has led to stringent targets on wastewater pollution and will require water companies to deliver the largest infrastructure program in their history to address stormwater discharges. rainwater: a capital investment of £56 billion over 25 years.

“We have been clear that water companies cannot profit from environmental damage. Through increased government-led monitoring and transparency, regulators have launched the largest-ever criminal and civil investigations into water companies’ wastewater treatment works.

“Regulators will use all options for robust enforcement action and continue to prioritize action to protect high priority bathing waters and natural sites.”

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