Thousands of alerts over sewage dumping into waterways are issued in a single year as incidents soar by 87%

  • Sewage dumping in rivers and seas by water companies rose by 87% last year
  • There were 5,500 sewage alerts in 2020, compared to 2,941 in previous year
  • Campaign group Surfers Against Sewage slams ‘shocking and outrageous’ stats
  • One in six days of official bathing season deemed ‘unswimmable’ due to sewage

Incidents of sewage dumping into rivers and seas by water companies rose by 87 per cent last year – an increase branded ‘shocking and outrageous’ by campaigners. 

In all, the companies issued more than 5,500 alerts of sewage being discharged last year, up on 2,941 the previous year. 

One in six days of the official bathing season were rendered ‘unswimmable’ due to sewage near beaches and other coastal spots, the report from the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage said. 

The bathing season is when designated beaches and lakes are monitored during the summer months by the Environment Agency for water quality standards. 

A wing surfer enjoys the strong winds as they surf in the sea off of Hayling Island in Hampshire

Hugo Tagholm, of Surfers Against Sewage, said: ‘The findings of our report are shocking and outrageous, but they are by no means unexpected. 

‘Time and time again, governments have claimed concern over the pollution of rivers and seas. Loopholes in laws and systematically defunded regulators have left water companies to run amok.’ 

He added: ‘We need water companies to clean up their act and commit to a decade of change to ensure our rivers and coastlines are thriving again.’ 

Last month, the Government pledged to enshrine in law a duty ‘to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows’ – after 22 Conservative MPs rebelled over an amendment that made such reductions voluntary. 

Surfers Against Sewage uses notifications of sewage discharges by water companies to issue real-time alerts to warn swimmers, surfers, paddleboarders and kayakers. 

Its annual water quality report said the 3,328 alerts issued during last year’s summer bathing season were up on 2020’s figure of 1,195. 

Surfers Against Sewage uses notifications of sewage discharges by water companies to issue real-time alerts to warn swimmers, surfers, paddleboarders and kayakers

Some of the rise is due to more notifications and more locations provided by water firms. 

Southern Water, which serves the stretch of coast from Hampshire to Kent, scored worst for the total number of overflow discharges, according to the report. 

Some 6,656 swimming days, 16 per cent of the total, were lost during the official bathing season. 

The charity also gathers health reports from water users, with 286 reports of sickness last year – up 124 cases on the previous year.

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