Water companies in England and Wales have been accused of breaching environmental permits by dumping raw sewage into rivers and the sea even during dry periods, according to a charity which collects data from utilities.
The discharge of sewage from storm sewers is only allowed by the Environment Agency during “extraordinarily heavy rainfall”. But research by the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage has shown that even in dry seasons, water companies are dumping untreated sewage into popular bathing spots.
The charity, which collects data to protect the health of swimmers, warned of 9,216 sewage pollution incidents at 450 popular bathing spots in the year to September. At least 145 of these events were potentially illegal because they occurred during periods of no rain.
About half of the so-called “dry spills” occurred at beaches where the water quality was described as “excellent,” according to a report released Thursday.
Amy Slack, head of campaigns and policy at SAS, said it was “alarming to uncover evidence of potentially illegal activity by water companies” and “ridiculed the classification system for designated swimming waters in the UK”.
The findings are based on data from electronic monitoring devices on the storm’s overflow pipes and combined with meteorological data.
The report likely underestimates the extent of the problem because not all storm drains are equipped with the technology, water companies are responsible for reporting their own data, and only some beaches and bathing areas are included.
Last year, Southern Water, which is responsible for the supply and treatment of wastewater in the South East, was fined a record £90 million for willfully manipulating and misrepresenting data over the seven years to 2017. own sewage streams.
SAS also found that 63 percent of the illnesses recorded in its program and reported to a doctor were due to poor water quality. It is reported that gastroenteritis was the most common disease, along with ear, nose, throat, skin and urinary tract infections.
The Environment Agency has already launched an investigation into the companies’ compliance with discharge permits, while water regulator Ofwat is investigating utilities over their management of sewage works. No investigation has yet been concluded.
Ofwat said it would consider the charity’s report with interest. “The dumping of waste water into the environment, which we witnessed, is unacceptable,” he added.
If found guilty of violating the rules, water monopolists can be fined up to 10 percent of annual turnover in civil cases, and an unlimited amount in criminal proceedings. Three water companies are listed, while the rest are owned by private equity, sovereign wealth and pension funds.
Water UK, which represents the industry, said there was an “urgent need” to tackle storm flooding. “To further accelerate progress, we need the government to stop housing developers from uncontrollably connecting to sewers without knowing their capabilities in the first place.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture and the Environment Agency have been contacted for comment.