Hundreds of swimmers turn out at lakes across the UK to protest sewage being pumped into British waterways

18 May 2024, 12:19

Protesters at Shepperton Lake
Protesters at Shepperton Lake. Picture: LBC

By Kit Heren

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated at lakes across the UK on Saturday to raise concerns about the state of the UK's water.

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At some 30 protests, organised by Surfers against Sewage, people swam out into the water in protective clothing.

One demonstration, at Shepperton Lake in Surrey, saw at least 200 people turn out.

It comes amid widespread concerns about the UK's water being contaminated by sewage. LBC revealed earlier this week that a hidden network of up to 10,000 unmonitored sewage pipes across the country could be driving the pollution crisis.

Meanwhile in Devon, a suspected manure leak into a water pipe has led to hundreds of people getting ill with an intestinal parasite.

Read more: Up to 10,000 hidden sewage pipes could be fuelling fivefold increase in fish deaths

Read more: MP says 'heads will roll' over Devon water parasite crisis, as confirmed cryptosporidium cases double

Protesters at Shepperton Lake
Protesters at Shepperton Lake. Picture: LBC

One protester at the Shepperton Lake protest told LBC: "I'm just horrified when you think that all of these water companies are paying out massive profits to themselves. And then ordinary citizens are having to boil water and getting ill.

"It just feels so wrong... really, in this day and age, we shouldn't be having these kinds of problems.

"So it needs investment needs attention. I think the water should be kept clean and it's so important to be able to do this for your mental health and swimming...

"Why can't it be separated and why should it be flushed into the lakes?"

Caller Louise on the contaminated water warning in Devon

Surfers against Sewage said: "Our ocean is under threat. Water companies are forcing our rivers and seas into a critical state by continuing to dump a toxic chemical cocktail of untreated sewage straight into waterways.

"And for far too long, regulators and Governments have let them get away with it. Not only are they destroying ecosystems, they are putting human health at risk. And we’re sick of it."

On Wednesday, Tim Harris, who spent nearly two decades as a scientific advisor at one of the UK’s biggest water companies, United Utilities, and now heads the consultancy TH Environmental, told LBC that water companies have significantly underestimated the number of pipes in operation across the UK.

According to his estimates, the true number could be 50% higher than the 22,000 overflows currently acknowledged by the government.

The protesters at Shepperton Lake
The protesters at Shepperton Lake. Picture: LBC

Mr Harris, who separately provides technical expertise for the charity Rivers Trust, said: “Some water companies might be a bit better than others, but the majority of them still have unknowns out there.

“This is mainly because of the poor record-keeping of the companies that were amalgamated to create the companies that we know now. There are potentially approximately between 20-50% extra outfalls than what [the water companies] are stating and what they are monitoring.”

LBC also revealed this week that there had been a fivefold increase in the number of fish killed where river pollution has potentially been a contributory factor, according to data from the Environment Agency.

Figures obtained through an Environmental Information Request showed that the number of fish killed where water pollution was detected rose to over 216,000 in the financial year 2023/24 - up from 42,070 in 2022/23.

Protesters at Shepperton Lake
Protesters at Shepperton Lake. Picture: LBC

Whilst other factors such as climate change is likely to be having an impact on the number of fish killed, LBC’s data is one of the clearest indications yet of the effect of river pollution on aquatic life.

Meanwhile an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Devon this week, caused by the waterborne parasite cryptosporidiosis, was likely sparked by a faulty water pipe operated by South West Water.

Dozens of cases have been confirmed, with hundreds more people reporting symptoms. A school has had to close and several businesses have been affected.

Anthony Mangnall, the MP for Totnes and South Devon, told LBC News' Chris Gold, said "heads will roll" but that it was "more important to get the system back up and running" first.

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