Water companies’ foul record revealed

Campaigns, Central Government, Water Companies

Water companies released raw sewage into rivers and seas in England for more than 1.75 million hours last year. There was an average of 825 sewage spillages into waterways per day, the data shows – down 19% on the previous year although this is largely due to last year’s below average rainfall.

The data, released by the Environment Agency today, showed that in 2022:

  • The average number of spillages per storm overflow was 23, compared to 29 in 2021;
  • 3% of storm overflows spilled more than 100 times, compared to 5% in 2021; and
  • 18% of storm overflows did not spill at all, compared to 13% in 2021.

Environment Agency Executive Director John Leyland said:

“The decrease in spillages in 2022 is largely down to dry weather, not water company action. We want to see quicker progress from water companies on reducing spillages and acting on monitoring data. We expect them to be fully across the detail of their networks and to maintain and invest in them to the high standard that the public expect and the regulator demands.”

Storm overflows account for 7% of water bodies failing to reach Good Ecological Status – a significant part of the 36% which fail due to impacts from the wider water industry. Agriculture accounts for 40% of failures, while urban and transport pollution makes up 18%.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“The volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is unacceptable and we are taking action to make sure polluters are held to account.”

Ilkley Clean River campaigner Di Loury told BBC News that when members of the public visit Ilkley it is, “because it’s designated as bathing water, they think the water is clean. But testing is one thing, cleaning up the river is another. We really should be putting the quality of the river before the profits of water companies.”

The full data releases for 2022 and previous years can be seen at: https://environment.data.gov.uk/dataset/21e15f12-0df8-4bfc-b763-45226c16a8ac

Meanwhile figures for Yorkshire Water provided by the Environment Agency show:

Number of sewage spillages54,273
Average duration of spillages, hours4
Total duration of spillages, hours:232,054
Duration of spillages, day’s equivalent9,669

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