Sign our petition on sewage here: https://www.leweslibdems.org.uk/sewage
Update 13th June 2022
‘Negligent’ water companies let dirty rivers go unchecked Hundreds of monitors installed to keep track of sewage discharges do not work most of the time, analysis reveals
Update 9th June 2022
Activists take water regulator to court over sewage in English and Welsh rivers: Environmental group Wild Justice seeks judicial review of Ofwat’s alleged failure to monitor water firms and act on discharges
Update 30th April 2022
Here is a map of the 735 times Southern Water discharged raw sewage into the rivers and seas of this constituency in 2021.
Update 18th Apr 2022
How to turn England’s rivers from filthy sewers into shining streams: how community action can work
Update 6th Apr 2022
Lib Dems put sewage at heart of campaign "some Tory election material on social media has misleadingly accused the Lib Dems of “voting against a legal duty to clean up rivers”. Lib Dem MPs opposed the government’s plans in favour of stronger legal duties backed by opposition parties."
Update 6th Apr 2022
Southern Water discharged raw sewage into the rivers and seas around Lewes constituency 670 times in 2021. That’s the equivalent of 6,060 hours of discharges. This is particularly worrying given the increases in the use of our waterways by wild swimmers, paddle-boarders, kayakers and canoeists.
The Conservatives have failed to tackle the sewage problem; they watered down proposals to reduce sewage discharges in the Environment Bill. And last month, Tories voted against our law which would have helped protect wildlife from the pumping of raw sewage. While this Government eventually caved to pressure and amended the Environment Act to do something about sewage discharges, it was nowhere near enough.
Water companies are responsible for this mess, not consumers. Bill payers should not be paying to clean up the mess.
Liberal Democrats are calling for:
- A Sewage Tax on water companies, forcing them to contribute from their massive profits to cleaning up the damage caused by sewage discharges.
- Reducing the number of licences the Environment Agency gives to water companies permitting them to discharge raw sewage into waterways.
- Setting meaningful targets and deadlines for water companies to end sewage discharges into waterways.
- Adding local environmental groups onto water companies boards, to support water companies in their duties to protect and enhance the environment.
- The promotion of a “public benefit company” model for water companies, so that particular economic and environmental policy objectives are also considered when running the company rather than just a return for shareholders.
In 2020, water companies made £2 billion in profit - a Sewage Tax would have raised £340 million to help clean up our rivers. Water companies would be prevented from passing the cost of the Sewage Tax onto consumers by Ofwat.
The Conservatives have allowed water companies to pollute our waterways with raw sewage for far too long. It’s time to stop them.
Update 6th Apr 2022
The Rivers Trust has updates its Sewage Map to include the latest 2021 data. "Is your river fit to play in?"
Update 16th Mar 2022
"Water companies have yet to complete a single improvement under the government’s scheme for tackling the worst sewage overflows, almost four years after it was launched to clean up rivers, an analysis of official records reveals."
Update 2nd Mar 2022
Environment Agency downgrading 93% of prosecutions for serious pollution - Exclusive: leaked internal report adds to concerns cutbacks have undermined England’s regulator
Update 15th Feb
Some of the UK’s most popular wild swimming spots awash with dangerous levels of toxic bacteria - Waterways where hundreds of people swim on sunny days are often tainted with sewage, ‘citizen science’ reveals
Update 13th Feb 2022
Sending solidarity to Chichester: ‘Sewage discharges will be routine’: Chichester protests at Tory housing targets
Update 8 Feb 2022
Southern Water dumps sewage in sea at Eastbourne, Seaford and Littlehampton beaches, including more than 18 hours at Eastbourne.
Update 8 Feb 2022
Government challenges Ofwat to do more to make water companies protect environment, but does nothing to force change in investment strategy. Rivers Trust says government strategy paper "fails to specify the need for transformational change, provides no direct guidance around investment gaps in failing/ageing infrastructure and how this is to be addressed through the price review, and for the need for water companies to drive more environmental resilience.”
Update 8 Feb 2022
More detail here about how Environment Agency staff were gagged as pollution got worse.
Update 29 Jan 2022
Revealed: Three British water firms that pay NO tax - our investigation shows foreign owned Thames, Yorkshire and Southern avoid business levy
Update 20 Jan, 2022
It is not surprising that Southern Water are getting away with what they're doing. It is now revealed that England’s Environment Agency has been cut back to such an extent that it is no longer a deterrent to polluters.
Update 3 Dec, 2021
Given MacQuarie's track record, we're not sure if it will alleviate Ofwat's concerns about Southern Water, which it has just described as having “weak levels of financial resilience” as well as levels of customer service which lag behind the rest of the industry.
Update 1st Dec
It has also come to light that Southern have accepted an investment from Australian megacorp Macquarie. According to Southern Water this is good news.
Macquarie owned Thames Water between 2006 and 2016. They used their ownership to raise Thames’s debt and siphon billions out in dividends while almost entirely avoiding corporation tax. Macquarie also had a relaxed attitude to pollution, culminating in a then record £20m fine for discharging raw sewage into the Thames.
And this is what Southern Water call good news.
Update 25th Nov
Companies across England and Wales issued more than 5,500 sewage discharge alerts in the last year. And the biggest polluter of them all is...
you guessed it...
with 1,949 notifications of sewage discharges in the year to 30th Sept 2021.
Update 26th Oct:
@mariacaulfield's excuses for not voting to stop water companies pouring sewage into our rivers and sea are:
a) unpayable bills for customers
b) Baldrick like: we have a plan
But neither of these actually answer the problem.
To get to the full answer we have to go back to the dawn of time - for privatisation of water, that means 1989. What had up to that moment been viewed as a public health provision became a market issue. Why? Because markets work best, we're told. But where is the market in water?
With most big service provision you get at least some sort of choice. You can choose your electricity or gas supplier. But with water there is no choice. You get the supplier for your region. They are supposedly held in check by a regulator - Ofwat.
To some extent Ofwat has worked. There is a price cap - so the argument about unpayable bills for customers is non-existent. But in other respects Ofwat has been failing consistently for thirty years. It is supposed to see to it that providers deal with leaks, build new infrastructure and don't make too much profit. But it has enabled providers to ignore leak management, to avoid building new infrastructure, and to pay dividends of more than £57 billion pounds to its shareholders.
Let's just say that again. £57,000,000,000 out of the bills of hard pressed customers and into the trousers of shareholders.
Nothing much is going to change. The government plan is to make the providers give us more data about sewage. Apparently, that will embarrass them into behaving better. But we already have such provision. that is what enables us to say how many discharges there have been and for how long.
It enables us to produce maps like this.
They haven't been embarrassed yet. They just keep discharging and laughing all the way to the bank. This is how it is. More than that, they're called "storm discharges" indicating that they are supposed to be exceptional events. But they have become routine.
To quote Sarah Ludford "even moderate rain, not storms, cause discharges because of lack of investment in treatment capacity, that govt has allowed in order not to eat into dividends" https://twitter.com/SarahLudford/status/1452384882622091271
Part b is the cunning plan. It will be statutory and it will be by Sept 2022. But there is no substance, other than the sound of a can being kicked down the road the same way it has been kicked down the road for the last thirty years.
Remember - this government is led by a man terrified of responsibility.
When it emerges, we're betting, the plan will say "We plan to investigate urgently the relationship between rainwater and other aspects of the environment with a view to..." We're also betting it will contain the phrases "world beating" and "British water is happy water".
No. We need action now. Not a plan to have a plan. The water companies have been avoiding action for thirty years. Even one more year is one too many.
On BBC Politics Fay Jones asked "Who is going to pay… to dig up a Victorian sewerage network?" As one of our elected MPs, it's her job to answer that question, not to ask it. She could maybe learn from our Victorian forebears.
When it became obvious that a solution was needed, they got on with it. They used public funds and bent all their energy and ingenuity to solve the problem.
The water companies and most of Ms Jones' colleagues are spending their energy and ingenuity defending profits, while the rest of us swim in s**t.
Update 24th Oct:
Just a reminder that one of the reasons we're here is Brexit. "Government says polluters can dump risky sewage into rivers as Brexit disrupts water treatment" (report Sept 7th)
Update 21st Oct:
And that, dear reader, is just what they did, including our MP, Maria Caulfield: "Here’s a list of every MP who just voted to ALLOW water companies to continue dumping RAW SEWAGE in our rivers".
Update 21st Oct:
But the government doesn't care: MPs set to reject move to make water firms cut sewage discharges - Government opposes proposed amendment to environment bill designed to protect rivers
Update 21st Oct:
Southern Water dumping sewage at 60, sixty, different locations along the south coast of England.
Update 16th Oct:
Southern Water described as having high level ""institutionalised culture of cover-ups" at Environment Agency enquiry. BBC report "Southern Water: Illegal spills the fault of a 'small number' of staff".
We're going to talk about filth now.
Pay attention at the back. We said talk *about* filth, not talk filth.
400,000. That's the number of times water companies let raw sewage into English waters in 2020.
The overflows are supposed to be used only in extreme weather but they lasted altogether for more than 3.1 million hours.
The law needs to be strengthened but the govt is failing to enforce the laws it has. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/13/government-failing-to-stop-sewage-discharge-into-english-rivers-says-charity
"sewage and wastewater discharges by water companies into rivers account for damage to 36% of water bodies."
Meanwhile in Sussex: Southern Water has already been fined £90,000,000 for illegal discharges.
(While their chief executive trousered a bonus of £550,000.)
Lewes District Council has passed a motion calling on Southern Water to say how it will put a stop to illegal discharges of sewage in the River Ouse. https://www.lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk/lewes-district-council-news/council-motion-targets-southern-waters-shocking-track-record/
Then there's the business of allowing them to discharge even more legally if they can't get the chemicals, due to the shortage of truck drivers (<irony on>which is absolutely NOTHING to do with Brexit </irony off> - see here https://twitter.com/Lewes_Lib_Dems/status/1442584289363759108)
For an idea of the scale of the issue - there are 35 major sewage treatment works beside the Ouse and its tributaries.
In 2017 there were 64 discharges from Barcombe Sewage Treatment Works: more than once a week. In 2018 there were 98 incidents covering a total of 635 hours. That is nearly twice a week, for a procedure that is only supposed to be carried out during “exceptional rainfall”.
Increasing amounts of water are extracted for human use, meaning the proportion of effluent is greater than otherwise. It is estimated that in summertime about 60% of the river water at Barcombe Mills is sewage effluent. You are swimming in .
Who owns the companies that deal with our water and sewage. Answer:
- Australians own Southern Water (Macquarrie)
- Australians own 50% of South East Water.
Who do they answer to, their customers or their shareholders? Have a guess.
(Much of the above from motion introduced by LibDem Guy Earl at Lewes Town Council, based on work by John Lamb and Mary Parker https://lewes-tc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Agenda_Council_7th_October_2021-Inc-late-papers.pdf see page 30). Well done, all.)