What’s Going On Here?

The English Environment Agency has revealed that water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters more than 400,000 times last year.

Untreated human effluent poured into rivers and seas for a total of 3.1 million hours via storm overflow pipes that are only supposed to be used in extreme weather when the pressure is too high on their system.

What Does This Mean?

Data published last year revealed that only 14% of English rivers were actually of good ecological standard, and none meet chemical standards.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that countries are legally obliged to treat sewage before it is released into waterways. Discharges of untreated human waste are only permitted in exceptional circumstances, for example after extreme rainfall. 

The new figures show the scale at which England’s sewage discharges have increased from 292,864 incidents in 2019 to 403,171 incidents in 2020 – a 37% rise!

Why Should We Care?

Last year, it was announced that the River Wharfe in West Yorkshire, was to be the first river in the UK to be given official bathing status. However, the scale of sewage in the waterway has led to the quality of the water being designated as poor! Not a great start.

Pollution in rivers causes significant harm to nature and aquatic animals. Earlier this year Thames Water was fined £2.3m for polluting a stream that resulted in killing 1000+ fish and took the river over a year to recover. This is following significant pollution incidents on the River Thames in 2017 that resulted in a fine of over £20m! Doesn’t seem to have reduced their polluting discharges!.

One thing that the current pandemic has highlighted is how important nature is to our health and wellbeing. With international travel being curbed (or at least heavily reduced) for the foreseeable future, 2021 is set to be an even bigger year for staycations.

When lockdown lifted in Summer 2020, councils were blamed for not providing adequate facilities, but it is also our responsibility to ensure the tornado of waste left in beauty spots doesn’t happen again. 

If we are going to be able to enjoy nature to its fullest, our waterways need to be clean and usable – not everyone can, or wants to, head to the coast. Water companies must do better to ensure this. 

Be Curious

Want to get involved? Here are a few organisations that host clean-ups, and have some useful water pollution maps:

Keep Britain Tidy – great british spring clean 28 May to 13 June 2021 https://www.keepbritaintidy.org/get-involved/support-our-campaigns/great-british-spring-clean

Planet Patrol – Host free cleanups all over the world on waterways, beaches and countryside https://planetpatrol.co/clean-ups/

Surfers Against Sewage – if you are heading to the coast and fancy a dip, check out the water quality  https://www.sas.org.uk/map

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