As wastewater discharges double, Tory MPs account for more than half of UK’s most polluted water

A new report which shows an 87.6% increase in sewer notifications since last October also reveals that pollution of UK rivers and seas is disproportionately affecting Conservative voting seats

More than half of the UK’s most polluted water is represented by Conservative MPs who rejected an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have imposed a legal obligation on water companies not to discharge wastewater in rivers.

The amendment was initially defeated in parliament last month after just 22 Tories rebelled after Environment Secretary George Eustice recommended party MPs vote against.

The angry backlash from voters took some Conservative MPs by surprise and caused an embarrassing government turnaround. A compromise on the bill followed which subsequently won the support of the conservative rebels.

But Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), part of a coalition of clean water activists who had pushed for the amendment, said the compromise was still too weak and did not impose the obligation. it is legal for water companies to stop discharging raw sewage into waterways.

The government maintains that the bill will lead to cuts. In 2020, water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers more than 400,000 times out of a total of 3.1 million hours, according to the Environment Agency (EA).

New research from SAS, released today, details the number of sewer discharge notifications issued during the 12-month period from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, using data accessible by water companies via SAS’s Safer Seas & Rivers Service (SSRS).

Over 5,500 wastewater discharge notices were issued by water companies during this period, an increase of 87.6%. Of these alerts, 3,328 were issued during the bathing season between May and September.

The report notes that while sewer overflows can be an important part of the safe management of sewage systems in exceptional circumstances, more and more cases of discharge notifications are issued at times that many would consider extreme. under normal conditions.

SAS said the actual numbers would likely be much higher, as data is only available for coastal waters and some companies only provide updates during the bathing season.

Most affected constituencies

The report identifies 37 locations across the country that are either the most affected by wastewater discharges or the most health reports by location, as measured by the number of users who are sick after entering the water.

Evidence collected by the SAS revealed that one in six days became ‘impossible to swim’ due to sewage pollution during the only official bathing season, and one in three reports of illness after swimming were linked to pollution events.

In addition, six of the eight rivers tested by SAS had elevated levels of E. coli and pose a serious and continuing risk to human health. The UK currently has only one designated bathing water.

Using district data provided by Maproom, Signing time was able to trace the 37 most affected areas in just 27 constituencies. Of those, 16 MPs voted with the government in last month’s wastewater vote, six voted against and five did not.

Two of these areas, Porthtowan and Gwithian Towens, are in the Camborne and Redruth constituency of Environment Minister George Eustice. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Poldhu Cove is a west-facing sandy beach in West Cornwall and St Ives represented by Conservative MP Derek Thomas. It ranks among the top 20 places for bad health reports. He initially voted against the government.

But in response to the latest SAS report, Thomas praised his colleagues for securing what he described as a “world-class and ambitious” environmental law that “went even further by including a legally binding requirement. for water companies to reduce the number of faults. water entering our rivers and seas ”.

Shadow Labor MP and Environment Minister Luke Pollard, who across parties voted against the government, didn’t think the law went far enough. An avid wild swimmer in his constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, he said Signing time he was not surprised to learn that wastewater discharges had increased.

He said: “The compromise amendment that was passed was not strong enough and does not give companies a timeline to invest and update the sewage system. He will do something, but far from what is necessary.


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Pollard said the fact that it takes an average of five years for the EA to administer fines reflects a lack of resources and called for an “increase in fines” for water companies. “The government did not force these companies to invest in the system, which is why we have this sewage scandal,” he added.

The EA welcomed the latest SAS report. “We have increased the transparency and monitoring of wastewater spills in order to deal with them more effectively and make the improvements we all want to see,” a spokesperson said.

“Surveillance has grown 14-fold over the past five years and for the first time this year we have released data on the frequency and duration of all sewage spills across the country. “

“While 93% of bathing water is rated as good or excellent, up from 28% in the 90s, there is clearly a lot more to do and we continue to work with anyone who wants to be part of the solution. “

The biggest culprits

Water companies are currently under investigation by financial and environmental watchdogs, the Environment Agency and Ofwat, after admitting to illegally dumping untreated sewage into rivers and rivers.

Southern Water, followed by South West and Wessex Water, saw the largest year-over-year increases in wastewater discharge, according to the report, but Southern was by far the biggest culprit.

In the bathing season alone, 1,949 wastewater discharge advisories were issued by the company and nearly 30% of the 286 health reports submitted this year were from the company’s operating area.

Southern said she knew her performance needed to improve and had pledged to spend £ 2 billion to reduce pollution incidents by 80% by 2025. The industry’s trade body Water UK said businesses recognize the urgent need to act to protect and improve UK rivers and seas. but it must be done in collaboration between industry, government, regulators and other stakeholders.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of SAS, said the concern has so far not turned into action and loopholes in the law and systematically funded regulators have left water companies running wild.

“The point is that water companies continue to increase their profits while causing catastrophic damage to river and coastal ecosystems, with limited consequences,” he said. “Instead, mind-boggling amounts of money are paid out as dividends to investors and CEOs are paid huge salaries.”


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