A report based on the latest data about raw sewage dumped into UK rivers and seas has revealed the shocking extent of the problem. The Express newspaper studied data from the Environment Agency, and compiled a list of the 20 most polluted waterways in the UK.
Topping the list was a pipe owned by Welsh Water at the River Ogmore in Pontyrhyl, south Wales, which discharged raw sewage for 7,804 hours during 2022. Another pipe just three miles apart dumped raw sewage into the same river for a further 6,896 hours.
Meanwhile, 10 of the pipes in the top 20 are operated by United Utilities, who cover north west England. At the Dladerse wastewater treatment works in Falkirk, Scotland, 238 sewage dumps occurred during 2022.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey has acknowledged the scale of the problem at a recent event at the London Wetland Centre, but warned that there are no quick fixes.
She said: ‘The truth is that however much we all want to see this fixed yesterday, there is no way that we can stop pollution overnight. If there were, I would do it just as quickly – and without hesitation.’
She added: ‘And anyone who tells you that they can – or get £56 billion pounds of capital investment out the door and into improvements to infrastructure under twenty-five-years – is either detached from reality or being definitively dishonest with the public.’
Tim Farron, Lib Dem MP for Lake District constituency Westmorland and Lonsdale, said that the issue was a national scandal, commenting: ‘In my own area, I am outraged that the Lake District is not safe from the scourge of sewage dumping.’
‘This should be protected land and the lakes cannot become polluted by profiteering firms who couldn’t care less about the environment. ‘United Utilities are committing environmental crimes by pumping sewage into national parks and it has to stop now. Ministers need to get tough on these firms.’
Mr Farron added: ‘These new figures reveal the sewage crisis is now impacting every corner of the country. This is truly a nationwide scandal. It is now or never to save our rivers, lakes and coastlines. The public will never forgive this Government if they fail to stop the polluting and profiteering water firms.’
According to the BBC, the UK has a combined sewerage system, which means that rainwater and wastewater are carried in the same pipes. During periods of excess rainfall, the system is deliberately designed to overflow into rivers and the sea to avoid the flooding of land.
However, the use of combined sewer overflows is meant to be a back up that is needed only on a few occasions each year. However, the latest figures show that overflows are occurring on an almost daily basis in the worst affected areas. The government has promised to introduce tougher fines for water companies who breach environmental regulations.
Wildlife and conservation charities are calling for more decisive action and more investment by the government into the UK sewage infrastructure.
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