Raw sewage is a significant threat to the environment in the UK, and it is a problem that has persisted for many years.
Once again, the topic has made headline news with videos of the nasty stuff being pumped into rivers, the sea and even onto beaches.
My understanding is that this action is actually allowed - it is legal supposedly only in exceptional circumstances, that is when excessive rainfall overwhelms the country’s drainage and sewer systems. When these systems can’t cope with the volume there is a danger of flooding of our homes, schools and businesses – so the water companies are allowed to release excess water into the sea and rivers. They claim that the discharges are diluted to 95% water.
When sewage is discharged into rivers and seas without proper treatment, it can lead to a variety of environmental problems, including water pollution, habitat degradation, and health hazards for both humans and wildlife.
These pollutants can harm both human and animal health, causing illnesses and diseases such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and dysentery.
Raw sewage can cause oxygen levels in the water to drop, which can kill fish and other aquatic life. It can also lead to the growth of algae and other plants, which can deplete oxygen levels further and make the water more difficult for other forms of life to survive in.
This can have a knock-on effect on the wider ecosystem, as the loss of certain species can lead to imbalances in the food chain and a decline in biodiversity.
Numerous organisations are naturally against any kind of discharge, including Surfers Against Sewage, who claim that they have noticed that discharges are made when there is only light rain.
With 15,000 storm overflows in England, even small discharges can add up to a huge amount of pollution.
Recently Southern Water discharged untreated sewage into nearly 30 bathing sites and has done so 95 times since last September, sometimes for more than 24 hours at a time.
The water companies and the Government have come under fire from opposition political parties as well as environmental groups. The Environment Agency itself has advised people not to bathe at over 50 sites across the country. Environment Secretary George Eustace was questioned about the problem in the House of Commons recently and he said that raw sewage being pumped into our waterways would reduce by 25% within the next 2 years. He claimed that the Conservatives were the first government to set out the plan and make it law for the reduction to happen – as if this was enough and seemed to be patting the Government on the back.
But surely that still leaves 75% of the raw sewage still finding it’s way into the rivers and seas? How can that be acceptable?
He defended his comments by stating that water companies around the country are investing over £3 billion to improve the storm overflow systems, claiming that recent increased monitoring has brought the scale of the problem to light. He warned the water companies that the situation would be closely monitored and that they would not be allowed to act outside of the law.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas feels this is like going backwards, pointing out that the plan still allows the pollution to continue until 2035 in some areas and to 2050 in others. She went on to say the complacent attitude of the government was staggering.
She has been joined by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in her criticism of the government and the water companies.
LibDem spokesman Tim Farron said that despite the water companies making profits of nearly £3 billion the problems still exist and are getting worse.
The industry regulator Ofwat and the Environment Agency are jointly investigating how the wastewater companies manage the sewage treatment plants.
One approach to tackling sewage pollution is the use of green infrastructure. This involves the use of natural features such as trees, plants, and wetlands to manage stormwater and reduce pollution. This approach can help to improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife, and enhance the visual and recreational appeal of urban and rural landscapes.
Stricter regulations, greater investment in sewage treatment infrastructure, and the implementation of sustainable drainage systems and green infrastructure are all needed to ensure that our rivers and seas remain clean and healthy for both present and future generations.
It is essential that we take action to prevent further harm to our environment and protect the precious ecosystems that depend on clean water. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of both individuals and organisations to play their part in reducing sewage pollution in our rivers and seas, through responsible water use, proper disposal of waste, and supporting initiatives to improve water quality.
It is important to remember that clean water is a finite resource, and we must do everything we can to protect it. By taking action now to reduce sewage pollution, we can help to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our communities and protect the natural environment for future generations. Together, we can make a positive impact on the environment and ensure a sustainable future for all.
We need to constantly remind governments of their responsibilities and promises and take them to task if they fall short of their targets.
We also need to push them to increase their targets which are currently woefully insufficient to tackle the problem as quickly as possible.
So have a look at the Green Party and Greenpeace and add your voice to the campaigns, and try and force acceleration of the improvement programmes.