Beachgoers in England and Wales have been warned to stay out of the water, not because of sharks but for something else beginning with ‘sh’.
Pollution alerts have been issued by the Environment Agency after sewage was discharged on more than 50 beaches on Britain’s west, south and east coasts, including popular leisure spots.
An interactive map of the polluted beaches has been created by campaign group, Surfers Against Sewage while warning signs have been put up on some beaches advising visitors not to swim.
Water companies discharging sewage into rivers and sea
Water companies discharged raw sewage into England’s rivers more than 400,000 times in 2021, according to the Environment Agency. It allows the companies to do so after extreme weather events to try and avoid flooding and to stop sewage backing up into homes and onto streets.
Drought has hardened the land, making it less able to absorb the heavy rainfall which flows instead to drainage channels and storm overflows. These have proved inadequate, causing flooding and the discharge of sewage into rivers and the sea.
Beaches on England’s south coast have been particularly affected, as shown by the Surfers Against Sewage map.
A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “Storm releases were made to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding. The release is 95-97% rainwater and so should not be described as raw sewage.
“We know customers do not like that the [water] industry has to rely on these [discharges] to protect them, and we are pioneering a new approach.”
Head of Surfers Against Sewage, Hugo Tagholm, said: “Every year we track thousands of sewage spills at some of England and Wales’s best loved beaches. Water companies are routinely using our rivers and beaches as a sewage dumping ground, compromising the health of the environment and people alike.”
Tagholm continued: “Official bathing waters, including Blue Flag beaches, are affected every year, with almost 3,500 sewage pollution events recorded in the 2021 bathing season alone.
“Southern Water are at the top of the dirty beach league table, with an average of 38 sewage alerts for their beaches between May and September 2021. Almost a third of our ill-health reports are also linked with beaches in their area.”
In 2021, Southern Water bosses received £3.4 million in bonuses.
More sewage discharges from floods expected
Even more sewage discharges are expected over the next days after the Met Office issued a yellow thunderstorm warning for England and Wales.
Flash floods around the country on Wednesday followed a Met Office amber warning for most of the south-east of England. Motorists abandoned cars on London’s North Circular road after it was submerged while the M25 was blocked by flood water. Gatwick airport warned of flight delays and cancellations because of the weather while parts of London Victoria Station closed from floods. The Telegraph reports that the gym “in the Houses of Parliament was also flooded out.”
Floods also affected homes, businesses and transport networks in other parts of Britain in areas from the south west to the midlands and south east.
The deluge came as Thames Water confirmed its hosepipe ban will come into force next week on August 24, impacting the 15 million people it serves. The Environment Agency has declared drought across eight parts of England and other water companies have already announced hosepipe bans.
Water companies have paid out more than £57 billion in dividends to shareholders since 1989, when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government privatised the sector. In the last two years water company executives have been awarded £27 million in bonuses. On average, raw sewage is pumped in the country’s waterways more than 1,000 times a day, everyday.
Ofgem director resigns over energy price hikes
Elsewhere, a director of Ofgem has resigned over the energy price cap rise, stating the energy watchdog has not “struck the right balance between the interests of consumers and the interests of suppliers”.
Christine Farnish told the Times she “could not support” Ofgem’s decision to hike the price cap, which will “add several hundreds pounds to everyone’s bill in order to support a number of suppliers in the coming months.”
Farnish has been a director of the energy regulator for several years.
Energy bills rose in April and will do so again in October with another rise in January predicted to take the average UK household bill to £4,266 a year. Another rise in April 2023 is forecast to take energy bills beyond £5,000.