Water Quality

Waterways provide opportunities for people to be active and unwind, to relax and play.

However, our waterways are in crisis. A ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, agricultural waste and plastic are polluting our rivers.

These are the words from the government department set up to look at improving water quality.

About 80% of the plastic in our oceans originates from litter in our rivers according to a World in Data report.

Bathing waters

The Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty said raw sewage entering our rivers was becoming a “growing health problem”.

The Environment Agency also announced that the performance of water companies fell to the lowest level seen under the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA).

Prison sentences for chief executives and board members, whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents, were also mooted.

The UK has only two bathing waters recognised at present, compared to France’s 573.

British Canoeing would like to see more bathing rivers and are supporting our friends Surfers Against Sewage with their petition for clean rivers.

The petition calls for the UK Government to set legally binding targets to increase the number of Official Bathing River Waters in the UK.

In 2021, records showed raw sewage was discharged into UK Rivers and seas 372,533 times (Environment Agency).

In Nov 2021, the Environment Agency and OFWAT announced a major investigation into sewage treatment works is to be launched involving more than 2,000 sewage treatment works.

Just 16% of waterways meet good ecological status.

Our Ambition: We want coastal and inland waters free from sewage pollution, rich in wildlife for all to enjoy the benefits of being connected with nature.

We need strong, ambitious, and binding targets, underpinned with sufficient funding, monitoring and enforcement, to address the water quality crisis in our rivers and waterways. View our ‘Water Quality Asks

What are we doing about it?

Working closely with the #EndSewagePollution Coalition to align policy and agree collective actions.

Influencing future water sector policy by responding to Defra & Ofwat consultations.

Engaging directly with water companies to influence their AMP eight priorities.

The Environment Act 2021

Thanks to your hard work, your voices on sewage pollution have been heard as the government bows to pressure and agrees to include additional clauses in the Environment Act on sewage pollution.

The Environment Act now places a duty on water companies to secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows on both the environment and public health.

In addition:

Water companies must provide real-time information when Sewer Overflows are discharging within the hour.

Water companies must monitor and report on the impact of sewage discharges.

The government must publish a plan to tackle sewage pollution and present it to parliament by 2022.

British Canoeing have now responded to the governments’ draft plan which we firmly believe ‘the industry must go further, faster to eliminate the discharge of sewage into our waters’. (More information can be found here)

We know the change won’t happen overnight and we need to keep the pressure on government, Ofwat, The Environment Agency, water companies and others.

The discharge of untreated sewage and other chemicals into our inland and coastal waters needs to end so we can see these beautiful places flourish with wildlife and people.

What can I do?

Sign the Surfers Against Sewage petition for more river bathing waters.

Check how your local inland or coastal water is impacted, via the Rivers Trust.

Keep up to date with real time discharges through the Surfers Against Sewage Safer seas and rivers app

Contact your MP and water company demanding an end to untreated sewage discharges.

Flush only the 3 P’s to avoid blockages.

Sign up to become a Clear Access, Clear Waters supporter and keep up to date on the latest developments and ways to get involved.

Report any pollution incidents to the Environment Agency’s 24-hour Hotline: 0800 80 70 60

Thanks for your hard work campaigning on this issue, let’s continue to take action and ensure the future of our blue spaces is sewage free.

Recent stories on this issue:

Water and sewerage firms company performance declines

Sewage in water is ‘growing health problem’

Government responds to “chemical cocktail” report

British Canoeing responds to the government’s sewage plan

Sewage data published by the Environment Agency

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