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UK raw sewage discharges illegal

October 23, 2012 | Words By: Hugo

SAS are today celebrating the decision of the European Courts of Justice ruling that Northumbrian Water and Thames Water are illegally discharging raw sewage via combined sewer overflows.


This ruling sets a precedent that will send shock waves around the UK water industry, highlighting the overuse of CSOs as a means to discharge untreated sewage onto UK beaches and into rivers. Thanks to data from its pioneering Sewage Alert Service, SAS are uniquely placed to identify further offending CSOs similarly breaching the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) and will deliver this damning evidence to the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) later this year.

The Sewage Alert Service data collected to date shows that CSOs all around the UK are discharging with alarming frequency. In 2012 the Sewage Alert Service has sent over 100,000 free real time text messages warning water users when CSOs are discharging raw sewage at over 200 designated bathing waters. The Sewage Alert Service enjoys strong support from Defra Minister Richard Benyon and has even been replicated regionally by water companies.

Some of the beaches that SAS are immediately concerned about are:

Western Super Mare
Poole Sandbanks
Chirstchurch
Westward Ho! (Cornwall)
Newquay, Fistral (Cornwall)
Porthtowan (Cornwall)
St Agnes (Cornwall)
Bournemouth Pier
Saltburn (Cleveland)
Godrevy (Cornwall)

Water companies might try and defend current CSO discharge policies by quoting bathing water results however SAS believes these do not provide an adequate sampling regime to properly identify short term impacts from CSOs. Samples are only taken from May – September on a once weekly basis leaving a huge window of time where the impacts from CSO discharges can be missed. The bathing water samples spots are all too often placed as far away as possible from CSO discharges points, again weakening the value of results. In 2010 SAS worked on a water quality CSO pilot study with South West Water, Cornwall Council and the Environment Agency and identified multiple failing results at a beach that consistently meets the ‘higher’ guideline standards.

The European Union (EU) has the power to fine the UK thousands of pounds a day for not complying with EU directives. SAS is concerned that the lack of water company investment to resolve this problemwill now expose the bill payer to potential fines and necessary investment. The water industry makes billions of pounds in profits year on year and they should shoulder any financial burden for correcting their mistakes.

The SAS campaigns team would like to highlight the committed work of Whitburn resident Bob Latimer in ensuring the European Commission took this case forward. Without his commitment these abuses may never have come to light.

SAS supporter and local campaigner Bob Latimer says: “It’s been a long and hard campaign but an important one of the environment. I’ve been battling away on this campaign for many years. Government agencies have refused to answer my questions on this issue but with the help of SAS and the European Commission we have made sure the water companies have been held to account. I’m happy that Northumbrian Water will finally have to stop discharging raw sewage at Whitburn and I know SAS will be using this ruling to protect beaches all around the UK.”

SAS Campaign Director Andy Cummins says: “The European Courts of Justice ruling could bring in a real sea change for the UK’s coastal environment. The ramifications for every water company are immense. SAS are now compiling a dossier of dangerous CSOs and we will be calling for urgent action at every CSO we feel is breaching the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.

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