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Surfers Against Sewage – 2019 Water Quality Report.

This year has seen the issue of poor water quality returning to public consciousness and highlighted at a national level. Recent reports have shown that water companies are performing consistently badly, with pollution events increasing and causing damage to local environments, wildlife, and putting human health at risk.

Photo by Chris Vevern

Southern Water received record fines of £126 million for serious failures in their sewage treatment works and for deliberately misreporting its water quality performance. One of our primary mandates is to keep people safe when using the water – wherever possible people should not face elevated risks of illness due poor water quality of rivers and the ocean. Where there is an unavoidable risk, people should always be made aware of sewage and other water pollution in real time.

Download the full report (pdf)

Analysis of data provided by the UK’s only real time water quality service, the Safer Seas Service (SSS), has shown that the discharge of sewage into our ocean remains a serious issue. This year, the coastline has suffered 1,784 Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) discharges during the official ‘summer’ bathing season; and that’s just what’s reported voluntarily by major water companies. This equates to at least 10% of bathing days lost to sewage discharge around the UK. Southern Water, despite the recent fines, was still responsible for the most sewage pollution events in 2019, with over 571 discharges. Without a significant step change, greater levels of precipitation, in combination with the predicted changes in rainfall intensity and an increase in heavier ‘extreme’ rainfall events, is likely to see combined sewer overflow discharges increase even further as a result of global heating.

Surfers Against Sewage is calling for a 75% reduction in sewage discharged into rivers and seas by 2030, with a complete cessation of those discharges that impact areas important to recreation and wellbeing, including designated Bathing Waters.

Alongside this, it is critical that accurate, transparent, and reliable information be given to the public to allow water users to remain safe. It is now widely recognised that use of rivers and coastal waters play an important part in human physical health and wellbeing. With a significant proportion of water recreational activities being undertaken throughout the year, it is more important than ever to provide water quality information year-round, not just during the official Bathing Season. Of
course, it’s not just coastal waters affected by these sewage discharges but also inland rivers and waterways where a massive 89% of the UK’s of sewer overflows discharge. It is becoming increasingly critical that all water users have the same access to water quality information to help keep them safe, and that includes those that use rivers for their recreation and wellbeing.

It seems increasingly clear from the growing body of evidence that water
companies are using rivers and seas to compensate for lack of capacity in sewerage infrastructure. It is time for radical action and investment to ensure that our oceans and rivers thrive with life, and water quality is improved for people’s health, wellbeing and enjoyment.

Download the full report (pdf)

Figure 4 shows the total number of discharge notifications issued for each water company during the 2019 official bathing season. Southern Water stands out with 574 notifications, over twice as many as the next highest of Northumbrian Water with 282. South West Water (273 notifications) and United Utilities (247) showed similar totals. The companies with the
least alerts were Yorkshire Water (54 notifications), Anglian Water and Dwr Cymru (both 104 notifications), and Wessex Water (146 notifications).

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