Water Quality

Waterways provide opportunities for millions of people to be active and unwind, to relax and play, but sadly they are being used to discharge raw sewage. With a growing population, more extreme weather events, increasing urbanisation and a lack of investment our sewage systems are increasingly unable to cope.

Fact: 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 after the prospect of new checks led water companies to admit they could be releasing unpermitted sewage discharges into rivers and watercourses. Find out more here

Fact: In 2021 Southern Water fined a record-breaking £90m for discharging unacceptable levels of sewage into our rivers. Find out more here

Fact: In 2020 alone, records show raw sewage was discharged into UK Rivers and seas over 400,000 times, spilling for over 3.1m hours (Environment Agency).

Fact: The UK is ranked just 25th out of 30 EU countries for bathing water quality. Find out more here

Fact: Just 16% of waterways meet good ecological status. Find out more here

Fact: Between 1st October 2020 – 30th September 2021,there were 5,517 sewage discharge notifications issued by water companies impacting designated Bathing Waters in England and Wales. Of these, 3,328 discharge notifications were issued during the Bathing Season (15th May – 30th September). Read the Surfers Against Sewage 2021 Water Quality Report here

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. You can learn more by clicking here.

  • Influencing future water sector policy by responding to Defra & Ofwat consultations. Click here to see our response to Ofwat’s consultation on their framework for the 2024 price review period (PR24).

  • Engaging with the Environmental Audit Committee review on water quality and sewage pollution. Click here for more information on our oral evidence and here for our written evidence.

  • Engaging directly with water companies to influence their AMP 8 priorities.

The Environment Act 2021

Thanks to your hard work, your voices on sewage pollution have been heard as government agrees to include additional clauses in the Environment Act on sewage pollution. There was plenty of disagreement between the Lords and the Commons and we would certainly have liked to have seen stronger legislation, however you can be proud that you have been part of the #EndSewagePollution movement which has pressured government into taking more action on this issue.

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

  • Government must publish a plan to tackle sewage pollution and present to parliament by 2022

More information can be found here

BUT 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 to ensure the discharge of untreated sewage and other chemicals into our inland and coastal waters ends and we can see these beautiful places flourish and thrive once more with wildlife and people.

What can I do?

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

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

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

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

    5.Flush only the 3 P’s to avoid blockages.

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

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.

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