Sewage discharged into coastal waters ‘thousands of times’ in a year – report


ater companies in England and Wales issued more than 5,500 alerts of sewage being discharged into coastal waters in the last year, a report says.

One in six days of the official bathing season were rendered “unswimmable” due to sewage pollution near beaches and other popular coastal spots, the report from Surfers Against Sewage said.

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

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

Its annual water quality report said a total of 5,517 sewer overflow discharge notifications were issued by water companies over the 12-month period to the end of September, – an 87.6% increase on last year’s figure of 2,941.

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

Some of the increase is due to more notifications and more locations provided by water firms, but Surfers Against Sewage also warned there was not a direct correlation between heavier rainfall and more discharges.

Southern Water scored worst for the total number of sewage overflow discharges, and for the average discharges per location and per 10,000 kilometres of sewage network, according to the report.

Surfers Against Sewage warned that with some water companies only providing information during the bathing season and data only available for coastal waters, the numbers are likely to be a conservative estimate for the number of times sewage is ending up in the seas and rivers.

The charity said all water companies had now agreed to provide notifications throughout the year – important as more than half (56%) of recreational visits to the coast occur outside the summer months.

With notifications kept “live” for 48 hours after they have occurred to allow pollution to disperse, some 6,656 swimming days were lost during the official bathing season alone across the hundreds of monitored sites, or 16% of all days.

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