Water firms slammed for ‘only being able to cope with 16C drizzly days’ as sewage alerts issued for beaches

18 August 2022, 09:25 | Updated: 18 August 2022, 09:39

Surfers Against Sewage hits out at water companies

By Cameron Kerr

Water firms have been criticised by campaigners for 'only being able to handle drizzly days at 16 degrees' after pollution warnings were put in place for dozens of beaches in England and Wales.

Untreated sewage was discharged into the sea in many coastal areas since Monday, following a period of heavy rain across southern England, after a spell of extremely dry weather.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, slammed water firms on LBC this morning, saying systems were only built to handle a ‘drizzly day at 16 degrees’ and not the extreme weather increasingly seen as a result of climate change.

Mr Tagholm shared his views with Nick Ferrari this morning.

Footage has emerged of sewage being discharged with alerts issued for UK beaches
Footage has emerged of sewage being discharged with alerts issued for UK beaches. Picture: Twitter

He said: “The last few days have been a shocking indictment on the water companies, we’ve gone from drought conditions where they couldn’t cope with too little water, to flood conditions where they can’t cope with too much water.

“It seems they’re only geared up to deal with a slightly overcast drizzly day at 16 degrees.

“This is an industry making huge profits – billions [of pounds] have been given out to shareholders since the water industry was privatised.

“They need to be investing more money into protecting the environment and protecting people and ending sewage pollution."

Last night a local Labour councillor in Shoreham said Southern Water had been pouring sewage into the sea at Shoreham and Southwick for over five hours.

Cllr Jeremy Gardner posted online: “Yesterday I said Southern Water had opened one of its river Adur sewage outfalls for 36 minutes. It turns out they opened four outfalls in Shoreham and Southwick, pouring sewage into our waters for an astonishing 5hrs 34mins. Outrageous.”

Southern Water said thunderstorms and more rain than usual "overwhelmed" its network.

"This led to some overflows – which are used to protect homes, schools, businesses and hospitals from flooding – spilling excess water into the sea in parts of west Sussex" it said.

Southern Water added that the discharges are heavily diluted and, typically, 95% of them are rainwater.

Yesterday, dozens of beaches in England and Wales were given pollution warnings following the release of untreated sewage into the sea.

Southern Water has defended its’ decision to dump sewage, saying that the practice is used to protect homes and businesses.

But Mr Tagholm does not believe that justification is true.

“The combined sewer overflows that these companies use are not to protect homes and businesses, but to protect their profits.

“The regulators have failed to bring the water industry into proper order. We haven’t seen strong enough penalties."

Mr Tagholm called for the government to cap water company dividends and executive pay until issues with sewage pollution and leaky water mains had been resolved.

Thames Water is currently constructing a 7.2 metre wide ‘super sewer’ under the River Thames to help reduce the volume of sewage discharged into the river.

During heavy rain, sewage is discharged directly into the Thames because London’s Victorian-era sewers cannot handle the increased volume of waste that enters the system.

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