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Sewage discharged into coastal waters ‘thousands of times’ a year, damning report finds

RAW sewage has been discharged into coastal waters “thousands of times” in the last year, a damning report found today.

Surfers Against Sewage said that one in six days of the official bathing season this summer was rendered “unswimmable” after more than 5,500 alerts of sewage being released near beaches were issued over the 12-month period to the end of September.

The campaign group said that the problem of pollution from storm overflows, which put untreated sewage into seas and rivers to stop drains overflowing after heavy rain, was increasing.

The charity accesses data on sewage discharges by water companies and issues a real-time alert through its “safer seas and rivers service” to warn swimmers, surfers, paddleboarders and kayakers of problem areas. 

Its annual water quality report said that a total of 5,517 sewer overflow discharge notifications were issued by water firms between September 2020 and the same month this year — an 87 per cent increase on the previous figure of 2,941.

Some 3,328 were issued during the summer, up on 2020’s figure of 1,195.

Southern Water was responsible for most discharges, according to the report. Many of the company’s customers in Kent are refusing to pay their water bills until the issue is addressed after residents reported feeling ill after swimming in the area.

In a strongly worded letter to the firm earlier this month, Seasalter councillor Ashley Clark said: “I find the thought of swimming in a mixture of local sewerage and seawater totally abhorrent and not something that I should be charged for.”

The firm prioritised director bonuses and shareholder dividends over treating sewerage, he added. 

Today, GMB called for Tory ministers to make water companies legally responsible for dumped sewage.

The union’s national officer Gary Carter said: "Enough is enough — the government must stop ignoring this problem.

“Ultimately private ownership of water companies has failed for consumers, workers and the environment — it’s time to bring back the tap into public ownership.” 

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard warned that the government’s “weak measures will simply allow them to carry on” polluting the environment. 

"The system is broken with billions of profits being made for shareholders while the water companies do far too little to stop sewage dumping,” he added.

A spokesperson for industry body Water UK said firms would need help from ministers, regulators and other organisations to make improvements.

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