Environmental campaigners said it was ‘bewildering” that MPs voted down a bill to prevent water companies from dumping raw waste into Britain’s rivers. They also expressed concern for swimmers at the coasts. 

Locals at beauty spots along South Coast savaged Tory MPs who voted down an Environment Bill Amendment that would have required water firms to not pump sewage into rivers. 

Surfers Against Sewage highlighted 20 beaches along the Sussex coast that it claims are polluted. These include Hastings and Bognor Regis as well as Saltdean near Brighton, Shanklin on The Isle of Wight, and Saltdean in Brighton. 

Surfers Against Sewage – who maintains a map showing the worst-hit areas – also identified Herne Bay, Seaton, Cornwall, and Hunstanton, Norfolk as polluted. This means that swimming there is not recommended.

The Rivers Trust also provides a second map showing where sewage can enter local rivers. The charity advises people to stay away from these areas, especially after rain.

Today, the government’s environmental officials said that the amount sewage being discharged into rivers by water firms was unacceptable. There were more than 400,000 instances of this in Britain in the last year. 

Rivers Trust’s analysis of Environment Agency figures revealed that 86% of England’s rivers are in a ‘failing state’. The charity claimed that more than half these cases were due the water companies. This was partly because they were dumping raw or partially-treated wastewater into rivers.

Britain’s sewers are unable to handle heavy rains, leaving them overwhelmed. At this point, water companies can release rainwater and untreated wastewater into rivers and seas to prevent waste from backing up in streets or homes. Environmentalists argue that better infrastructure like storage tanks could prevent this.

Raw sewage is harmful to wildlife and swimmers, including wild swimmers such as radio DJ Jo Whiley, who fell ill after taking a river swim last month. This comes seven weeks after the Government told wastewater plants that they could dispose of sewage that was not fully treated because of a shortage in chemicals due to the lorry driver crisis. 

This map from Surfers Against Sewage, part of its Safer Seas and Rivers Service, tracks real-time combined sewage overflows and pollution risk forecasts, and monitors the water quality at over 400 locations around UK rivers and coastlines

Surfers Against Sewage’s Safer Seas and Rivers Service tracks combined sewage overflows and forecasts pollution risk. It also monitors water quality at more than 400 locations along the UK coastlines and rivers.

A close-up of the Surfers Against Sewage map shows where swimming is advised against on a stretch of the south coast

A close-up of Surfers Against Waste map showing where swimming is prohibited on a stretch along the south coast

Only 22 Conservatives voted against the Government last Wednesday by voting for an amendment in the Environment Bill that would have placed a legal obligation on water companies to not pump sewage into rivers.

The Duke of Wellington introduced the amendment in the House of Lords. It would have required water companies and the Government to take all reasonable steps to avoid the combined sewer overflows that regularly release untreated waste to rivers and seas. 

What is the law regarding water companies being allowed sewage to rivers and the ocean? 

Britain’s sewer system, which is largely Victorian, is unable to cope with excessive rainwater.

This is when water companies can release rainwater and a smaller amount untreated sewage directly into rivers or the sea to prevent waste from backing up in streets or homes.

However, environmentalists believe that better infrastructure like storage tanks at treatment facilities or nature-based solutions such as tree-planting can be used to tackle this problem.

Figures show that more than 400,000 sewage ‘overflows’ occurred into English waters last year. They lasted a total time of 3.1 million hours, as opposed to 293,000 in 2019.

The combined sewer overflows that caused the spills last year lasted for over 3.1 million hours, despite being used only in extreme weather. The WWF suggested that water companies were relying on sewer backups to compensate their inadequate capacity. 

After treatment, wastewater is typically released to the atmosphere, either out to sea via long sea outfalls, coastal discharges, and into rivers. 

Royston Smith, a Conservative MP, voted down the amendment. He told the Southern Daily Echo that while no one wants sewage to our rivers, you can’t change an existing system where the majority of it is still Victorian overnight. 

“Things such as illegal sewage dumping are a completely different thing, but there comes a time when the system can’t cope with significant rain or flooding and it will overflow into the rivers unfortunately.

Hugo Tagholm (chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage) stated that it was shocking that the government had recommended that MPs reject progressive amendments that would preserve water, air, and nature.

“Why would they want water companies to have a legal responsibility not to pollute our rivers or oceans with sewage? It’s hard to believe, and it hardly shows any commitment to be the most green government. 

“It’s high time for more ambitious thinking, and legislation that places protected nature back in public ownership instead of allowing it to be ravaged by shareholder interests. 

He said, “Record numbers of people use our beaches and rivers for health and well-being. Wild swimming, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and much more – our blue spaces have never been a more important public amenity. Yet, the UK’s rivers are still plagued by sewage and other agricultural pollution. 

“Only 14% of rivers in England are deemed to be in a ‘Good Ecological Condition’. The UK ranks last among 30 European countries in terms of coastal water quality, despite investments made in the 1990s. “In 2020, water companies pumped rawsewage into England’s waters for 3.1 Million hours. 

A photo of apparent sewerage floating off the Bognor coast by a paddleboarder on Oct 9 was widely shared by social media users as they debate the issue. Experts in the water industry said that the image looked like algal bloom and is unlikely to be caused by wastewater. 

The picture was taken by paddleboarder Paul Boniface, 43, who said the ‘sea is criss-crossed with orange-brown foam for the last two miles (from Pagham to Butlin’s). It’s hard to imagine that this was yesterday’s breakfast. 

MailOnline was told by experts in the water industry that the picture resembles algal bloom. This can be caused either by nitrates or from agricultural practices.

But Boniface said that even if it were an algal bloom, it would be considered ‘an artworkefact of pollution’. He also stated: ‘You get the nitrates through sewage and farm-run-off pollution, and this pollution goes into the ocean and causes these blooms. It’s likely that it’s the same type of cause as I understand. 

This map from The Rivers Trust shows where sewage enters local rivers. The trust advises people to avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges and avoid the overflows (brown circles), especially after it has been raining

This map by The Rivers Trust shows the locations where sewage can enter local rivers. The trust advises people not to enter the water immediately downstream from these discharges. They also recommend that they avoid overflows (brown circles), especially if it has been raining.

Surfers Against Sewage and other campaign groups said it was vital to get action started to combat sewage pollution now.

Bournemouth beach visitors were outraged by the dumping of sewage  

Today, one of Britain’s most popular seaside destinations expressed outrage at the fact that sewage was being thrown into the water.

One mother said that she would not allow her child to swim in the Bournemouth pier’s sea because she did not want him getting sick. Although it is believed that the sewage has now stopped, there are reports that sewage was seen being dumped onto the beaches at 17 Dorset.

Alexis Cook, 38, a Hertfordshire woman, brought her six-year-old son Leo with her to Bournemouth during half term holidays.

She stated that she had read online about a problem with sewage, but that they came to avoid it. This is supposed to be one the most beautiful beaches in the country.

Clapton was avoided because of sewage dumps there. I wish I had checked other places it was dumped. It’s a good thing my son is happy playing with the sand. I don’t want him to become ill, with Covid and all this.

A mother of three aged 43, who lives in Sandbanks, said that she was walking along the seven-mile promenade and that it was disappointing to hear that water was being pumped here. We rarely make it to this part of the coast, as we live in Sandbanks.

“It’s absolutely terrible. I wouldn’t let my children swim in the sea water if I knew.

A Christchurch resident posted on social media that they noticed a strange hue in the water at Avon Beach.

Janine Roberjot Ray posted: ‘Went on Avon beach yesterday, saw many people swimming. A family was letting their children use body boards so I warned them. There was a strange colour to the water. It didn’t look inviting.

However, Environment Secretary George Eustice urged MPs to reject the bill’s amendments just days before Boris Johnson hosts world leaders at Cop26’s climate change summit in Glasgow.

Social media users posted images of the MPs who rejected the amendment, causing a massive backlash. One person asked: “What kind of person votes for water companies to pump rawsewage into our water?” 

Another wrote: “I just emailed my MP asking her to explain the benefits of rawsewage being dumped in our waterways.”

MailOnline was told by a government source that the Conservative MPs had rejected the idea of allowing water companies to dump raw wastewater into our rivers or seas. The Environment Bill’s provisions will lead to a progressive reduction in storm overflows. 

“The Environment Bill requires that we set a target to make progress on water quality. We have already taken significant action to address water issues more broadly. These claims are simply false.

The measure is now scheduled to be returned to Lords tomorrow. Peers are expected to send it back the Commons and force another vote between MPs.

Crossbench peer The Duke of Wellington stated that he believed that the amendment would stimulate investment to improve the systems. These systems date back decades, and are in dire need of upgrades.

It comes as Rivers Trust, a charity, has revealed that all England’s rivers are failing to pass cleanliness tests. 53% of rivers are in poor condition due to water companies releasing raw and partially-treated waste.

According to the Telegraph, only 14% of England’s rivers have a good ecological status. None have a good chemical state. This is because water companies can currently release raw sewage into rivers as part of a “combined sewer overflow”, a legacy of Britain’s Victorian drainage system.

This means that rainwater is combined with liquid waste and overflows into the waterways as an escape valve. It does not back up into homes and streets.

Feargal Sharkey, a former Undertones singer, is one of those who are fighting to clean up British waterways. She announced last year plans to take legal action against the Environment Agency for its management of England’s rivers.

He said that he had previously stated: “As nations, we’re going be forced to face a very basic situation. Are we going to let our rivers be clogged with our human waste?

“The truth is that there has been a long-term issue about regulatory oversight and lack of political leadership. Most of this was driven by concerns over the price of water. Now we have reached the situation through incompetence that every river contains sewage. 

MPs were told in April last year that water companies poured raw wastewater into rivers for three millions hours last year while paying dividends to shareholders billions.

Supply chain issues impact the quality of sewage treatment chemicals 

The government informed wastewater plants last month that they could dispose of sewage that was not fully treated because of a shortage in chemicals due to the lorry driver crisis.

One of the chemicals used for the sewage treatment process was one of the products that was not in stock due to the driver shortage. This was caused by a combination Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

In a regulatory statement published at the beginning September, plants were advised that they may dispose off effluent not completely treated due to disruption caused by “supply chain failure”.

The Environment Agency issued the statement. It introduced a waiver that would allow certain companies to skip the third stage of the treatment process if they don’t have the right chemicals.

Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), stated that the waiver was specifically related to a lack of ferric sulphate, an alkaline solution used to suppress the growth and reproduction of algae.

The government agency stated that the regulatory statement (RPS), which would apply up to the end of the year, would be applicable to companies. Companies would then need a permit to continue with the practice.

The Thames River Environmental Audit Committee was informed by the Mogden treatment facility that it sent over 400 metric tons of effluent to the Thames in two days last autumn.

Sewage can be discharged only when there is heavy rain. However, Mr Sharkey informed MPs that the River Chess in Buckinghamshire was ‘discharging sewage for 35 day, one continuous discharge’.

Peter Hammond is a retired professor of computational Biology at University College London. He said that his analysis on sewage treatment works had revealed 160 violations to permits granted by EA for sewage discharges.

He stated that the watchdog had only prosecuted 174 cases in the past decade for illegal discharges.

Hammond explained to MPs that his research revealed that many of the treatment plants don’t continue to treat a minimum level of sewage when they’re spilling. Many of these illegal spillages aren’t being identified by EA.

“My research revealed 160 permits were violated in 2020,” said a researcher. I believe they are in order of magnitude that I think is 10 times more … than the agency have identified.’

According to the EA’s 2020 report, there were 403,171 leakages of sewage into England’s rivers & seas due to storm overflows. The EA also stated that there were more spillages than 3.1 million hours in 2020.

As part of a pledge for greater transparency around the issue, the data was made public ‘proactively’.

While overspills caused by rain do not attract fines, in July, Southern Water was fined a record £90 million for dumping sewage off the south coast of England between 2010 and 2015.

But this fine, and a £20million one served on Thames Water in 2017 after repeated illegal discharges of sewage into the Thames, are unusually high.

In 2019, there were four prosecutions of water companies, resulting in fines of just under £1.3million in total, and environmentalists are also calling for increased fines.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said today that the amount of sewage that water companies discharge into our rivers is unacceptable. Water companies have been told that they must reduce storm water sewage discharges as a priority.

MPs have voted against amending a bill to stop water firms dumping raw sewage into Britain's rivers and seas (stock image)

MPs voted against amending a bill that would have stopped water companies from dumping raw sewage into Britain’s rivers and seas. Stock image

“We have every confidence in the provisions of this Bill to deliver progressive reductions on the damage caused by storm overflows. Any suggestion to that otherwise is both disingenuous as untrue.”

Hertfordshire’s River Mimram becomes PURPLE due to pollution

River Mimram in Hertfordshire turned purple with pollution

River Mimram in Hertfordshire was turned purple by pollution

Just hours after ministers from the environment took photographs in front of the River Mimram in Hertfordshire to discuss plans to restore rare chalk streams, the river turned purple with pollution.

The river was clear when Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister, and members from the Chalk Stream Restoration Group visited.

Feargal Sharkey shared an image of the stream via Twitter, shortly after they left.

Campaigners claimed that this demonstrates the dire state of Britain’s rivers. Only 14% of them are in a ‘good ecological condition’ and 53% are in a very poor state.

The Environment Agency stated that the river had already returned back to normal when it returned for investigation and found no evidence of fish damage.

Although they can’t pinpoint the cause of the purple color, campaigners speculate that dyes from industry could have contaminated the water.

The body added that there were ‘significant penalties’ in place for offenders, and earlier this year Southern Water was handed a record-breaking £90million fine, while Thames Water was fined £4million and £2.3million for separate incidents.

The spokesman added that between 2020 and 2025, water companies will invest £7.1billion on environmental improvements in England, including £3.1billion on storm overflow improvements alone.

MailOnline was told by a spokesperson from Southern Water: “Across the nation, sewer systems were connected to surface drains in order for homes to be protected against flooding.” 

The Environment Agency allows wastewater companies, which are licensed by the Environment Agency, to release heavy or intense rain in order to protect homes and schools from flooding and to ensure customers can use their washing machines and toilets as usual. 

‘As a service to recreational water users such as kayakers or windsurfers we provide a near real-time Beachbuoy service which alerts them to when this storm water has filled storm tanks and – after screening – is being released through long sea outfalls around two miles out to sea. 98% of our outfalls now have sensors and telemetry.

“As wastewater providers catch up to our industry-leading monitoring, the public awareness of storm release is growing and there is increasing calls for this highly regulated practice being ended. We support these calls and have taken a pioneering approach. 

“While separating all sewers and surface drains would be costly and disruptive, we believe that a partnership approach to solving this problem is the best. Rainwater separation must be included in new construction. It is important to invest in natural capital, such as expanded and enhanced wetlands. 

‘Between 2020 and 2025 we are investing almost £2 billion on wastewater services and environmental protection. The challenge is enormous. Climate change has led to more intense rainstorms. Population growth and development have eroded greenfields that used to be storm water soak-aways.

“Concrete and Steel alone will not stop storm releases, but partnership between Southern Water, other wastewater providers, developers, regulators, central and local governments can reduce the nation’s dependence on the system.

‘In Thanet were a funding a £400,000 pathfinder programme looking at the sources of rain water in our sewer system with a view to targeting the greatest sources and reducing reliance on the storm system.’

And a spokesman for industry body Water UK said: ‘Water companies are passionate about their role as custodians of the environment and are investing £5billion in the environment – including £1.2billion to improve storm overflows and sewage treatment works.

“More must be done. Our 21st Century Rivers report, published recently, lists ten key steps that will lead to the radical changes we all want. We call on the government to introduce legislation in a new Rivers Act which will provide greater protection for rivers.

“Water companies don’t have all the answers, and without everyone working together, it is impossible to achieve the radical transformation needed and the healthy, thriving waters that everyone desires.