Environment

Sewage dumped into sea at coastal resorts as heavy rain follows heatwave

Swimmers have been warned to avoid coastal spots where sewage has been dumped into the sea following heavy rainfall.

Sewage is only supposed to be discharged following extreme weather. Image: Jeff Buck (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Water companies have dumped raw sewage into the sea in more than 50 coastal areas across England and Wales following a period of heavy rainfall. 

Data from Surfers Against Sewage shows multiple coastal resorts, largely on the south coast, where sewage has been discharged and swimmers have been warned against getting in the water.

Southern Water, one of the water companies responsible, said that the discharges were made to protect homes and businesses, and argued that the releases were 95-97 per cent rainwater. 

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “There were thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rain the night before last and yesterday [Tuesday]. Storm releases were made to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding. The release is 95-97% rainwater and so should not be described as raw sewage.

“We know customers do not like that the industry has to rely on these [discharges] to protect them, and we are pioneering a new approach.”

On Tuesday, a viral Tweet showed brown sewage water flowing into the sea on the Sussex Coast in a marine protected area, sparking outrage online. 

Earlier this year, the Environment Agency called for water company bosses to face prison sentences for failure to tackle sewage dumps, with companies in England and Wales repeatedly fined for illegal discharges in recent years. 

Sewage discharges are only supposed to occur during extreme weather, and are subject to a permit. They are used to avoid sewage backing up into people’s homes and businesses. 

Data collected by campaign groups and journalists, however, shows that discharges regularly happen outside of extreme weather conditions and sometimes occur illegally. 

In 2020 and 2021, there were almost 400,000 spill events in total. 

The government has said it will act on sewage discharges with a plan to reduce the level occurring scheduled for next month. 

In a statement, the Environment Agency said that sewage pollution could be “devastating to human health, local biodiversity and our environment”. It said it would not “hesitate to act to eliminate the harm sewage discharges cause to the environment”.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Our rivers and beaches are once again being treated as open sewers. Years of underinvestment is now in plain sight.”

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