Wessex Water is to invest millions in upgrading its wastewater treatment facilities, following complaints about the volume of sewage being discharged by storm overflows at beaches across South West England. The water company will also seek to reduce its environmental footprint, with low-carbon and nature-based solutions.
is the agency responsible for water and sewerage networks across Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, Wiltshire and parts of Gloucestershire and Hampshire. The that that sea swimmers have complained about sewage discharges from storm overflows at 17 Dorset beaches.
In response, the agency has announced that it will invest £3m a month, with a target to reduce hourly overflow discharges by a quarter by 2025. The move comes after a backlash against comments made by their environmental director Ruth Barden in February.
In response to criticism about sewage pollution around the Dorset coast last October, Ms Barden said: The only way you will not get ill from consuming water is if you consume tap water; if you go swimming with your mouth open it is not free from bacteria, so that is something to be aware of.“
Currently, the quality of seawater around UK beaches is only tested from May to September, but following the complaints, there have been calls for this period to be extended to year-round testing. Wessex water initially defended the comments, and explained that volunteers test the water during the winter months.
In a statement, Wessex Water said: “The advice from both Public Health England and wild swimming groups is to avoid ingesting river, lake or sea water while swimming as there will always be bacteria in the sea – from wildlife faeces and run-off from agricultural land, as well as regulated storm overflows and treated sewage discharges.”
However, after criticism about their approach from local councillors, MPs, and the general public, the company has changed its approach. It will now invest in upgrading 42 water recycling centres, including using new technology to provide round the clock monitoring of water quality.
The company has also committed to using more nature-based solutions to wastewater management, including building new storm storage tanks in wetland and reed-beds, with a system in place to keep rainwater separate from the sewage system.
Wessex Water’s Matt Wheeldon said: “We have 1,300 overflows across the region, so it will take time and significant resources to eliminate them. By committing to spend £3 million every month on overflows, starting with those that discharge most frequently and those that have any environmental impact, we will make a good start.”
Facilities at Bristol and Bournemouth water recycling centres, which are the largest under Wessex Water’s management, will have increased capacity put in place, to allow for the treatment and storage of greater volumes of stormwater.
Water sports and wild sea swimming around the UK coastline have surged in popularity over recent years, and the Covid restrictions have led to even greater numbers of people taking up sea bathing. This has increased scrutiny of the volumes of untreated sewage which is dumped into the sea and rivers every year.
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