Clean Water campaigners Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) are outraged, but not surprised, by bathing water results released today by Defra. 30% of UK beaches failed to meet guideline standards, a shockingly high figure that confirms SAS’s fears that our bathing waters and surf spots are being contaminated by raw sewage discharging from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). And yet water companies are appealing against Environment Agency attempts to regulate 4,000 unlicensed CSOs. This combination of bad news for the environment has inspired SAS to launch the new “Adopt A CSO” campaign. This initiative will warn beach users of the impacts CSOs could have on water quality and public health before they unwittingly expose themselves to potentially harmful pathogens.
SAS helped expose the shameful overuse of CSO’s around the UK in this summer’s Panorama programme “Britain’s Dirty Beaches”. Viewers registered their disbelief and disgust but, to add insult to injury, SAS have learnt that the majority of water companies have launched an action to ensure that thousands of their CSOs escape environmental regulations. These companies are Anglian Water, Yorkshire Water, Welsh Water/Dwr Cymru, Thames Water, Severn Trent Water and United Utilities.
Whilst the majority of the 20,000 CSOs in England and Wales have seen some improvement and operate under a discharge to consent, there are many that still operate on their own terms causing unknown environmental damage. These unregulated CSOs were given temporary licences, known as deemed consents, to help speed up the process of privatising the water industry 20 years ago.
The water industry knew then, that at some point, these unregulated CSOs would have to be brought into line and earlier this year the Environment Agency set about the task of issuing new conditions for their use.
The Environment Agency conditions do not require excessive investment yet, after 20 years of leniency, rather than embrace the decision with good grace the water companies involved have appealed against 94% of the discharge consents!
SAS are furious that these companies believe they should be allowed to continue to pollute without fear of prosecution. They’ve had twenty years notice that these CSOs will have to be regulated, yet rather than face the music, they choose to protest en mass.
SAS has written to the Secretary of State for the Environment to express our concern both for the environment and public health should the water companies be successful in their appeal.
Whilst we await the Secretary of State’s decision SAS will today launch the new “Adopt A CSO” initiative. SAS are urging their supporters to keep an eye on CSO’s discharging into local beaches and surf spots. CSO fosterers’ will investigate potential sewage spills and report them to the Environment Agency. What sets this initiative apart from other schemes is CSO fosterers’ will be asked to erect SAS’s new pollution warning signs, alerting water users of potential reductions in water quality. This will allow surfers and beach users alike to make informed decision about using the water before exposing themselves to potentially harmful pathogens. CSOs have been fostered in Cornwall, Devon, Bournemouth, Brighton, Scarborough, Saltburn By Sea, Wales and Scotland. Supporters are invited to contact SAS if they would like to adopt their local CSO.
Andy Cummins, SAS Campaign Manager
Once again the UK has failed to meet minimum standards set over 30 years ago for bathing water quality. SAS has been warning of poor results due to the UK's over use of CSOs. This problem has gone on too long and SAS are calling on supporters to take action and adopt a CSO. If water companies are going to put water quality and public health at risk SAS will ensure the public are warned!