‘I feel like I’m playing sewage roulette with my life every time I enter the water’

If you’ve tuned into the news recently, you’ve probably spotted the deluge of stories about raw sewage being dumped into our waterways making the headlines. The dirty secret of the UK’s water companies is well and truly out in the open. And it stinks.

Andy, an angling coach from Yorkshire, has been dealing with the issue on the ground for years, and for him, it’s more than just a story in the news.

“As an angling coach and river guide, I travel around to many different rivers and streams in the UK. Sadly, everywhere I travel, there is a high level of sewage pollution. I grew up in West Yorkshire. My local rivers were the river Calder, river Colne, and river Aire, where I have witnessed sewage and chemical pollution throughout my life. Recently, it has increased dramatically.”

“Around a year ago I relocated to Greater Manchester, where the sewage, chemical, and rubbish pollution is at a whole new level, particularly on the streams flowing into the Manchester ship canal, then downstream into the river Mersey, and eventually into the sea above North Wales. Every river and stream I visit is the same.”

Andy visits blue spaces on a daily basis, which puts him at high risk of getting ill from exposure to pollution. Whether he’s walking the dogs every day close to rivers, streams, and lakes, angling in both freshwater and saltwater, kayaking, photographing wildlife or surfing in the summer months, he’s always in or around England’s waterways.

Spending time in blue spaces improves my mental health and well-being. I find blue spaces therapeutic, sometimes it is essential to escape from the stresses of urban life.

Andy described the pollution he’s witnessed in his local area. His account is not for the faint-hearted.

“The riverbanks and edges of streams are littered with thousands of wet wipes, sanitary towels, and other nasties like syringes and needles from storm drains flowing into the water even in times of low rainfall.”

“There is visible raw sewage, faecal matter and toilet paper around the riverbanks everywhere. Downstream from the local sewage works, there is visible sewage froth and scum on the surface of the water.”

Other locals and wildlife are affected too.

“I have seen numbers of amphibians, fish, and birds such as kingfishers decline rapidly. Invertebrate species which feed larger animals further up the food chain have also declined. Large numbers of rats are feasting on the visible raw sewage and food waste which is discharged into our rivers and streams. Rat populations have increased rapidly, which is impacting other wildlife.”

“Local children are becoming sick from playing and swimming in streams and rivers accessible to the general public in the summer months. There is a very real public health risk of contracting diseases from the river water. Dogs swimming and entering the rivers and streams are becoming sick. In some cases, dogs have died from drinking the sewage-tainted water, from the chemicals in the sewage discharges. I’m scared to let my dogs swim and drink from my local rivers and streams, and no longer let them enter the water.”

The threat of contracting an illness has made Andy act more cautiously around the water: “I’m worried and nervous to touch the water with my bare hands, and now regularly disinfect my waders.”

The enjoyment of interacting with blue spaces and participating in sports and recreational activities has been replaced with fear of permanent illness from sewage borne bacteria and diseases. As a frequent water user, I feel like I’m playing sewage roulette with my life every time I enter the water.

In cases like this, we often look to the government and the Environment Agency for solutions, but it’s become clear that years of underfunding and lack of time on the political agenda means that water companies are severely under-regulated.

Andy said: “National government needs to make changes in legislation to prevent sewage and chemical pollution. They need to give the Environment Agency the power to investigate and fine water companies effectively.”

“Water companies need to be heavily fined by the Environment Agency and government for discharging raw sewage into our streams, rivers, and oceans. The corruption in the water industry needs to stop. Those polluting should be investigated financially.”

“Currently water companies are making a profit from sewage pollution, this loophole needs to be closed by legislation combined with independent monitoring.”

But while the government dither and delay its targets, unrest is growing amongst members of the public, and people are joining our call to end sewage pollution once and for all.

“The large community of anglers, surfers and other water users need to unite. Water users and the general public need to support conscious environmental groups such as the Angling Trust, Activist Anglers, and Surfers Against Sewage.”

We asked Andy what his message to water companies and the government is:

“Stop using our streams, rivers and oceans as sewage landfill to generate profit for your companies.”

“The UK’s blue spaces are essential for the health and well-being of our country. Our rivers are in crisis and the water companies polluting them need to be held accountable for their actions, as a nation we need reform in legislation now.”

The latest projections released by the government predict that by 2043, only 6% of the UK’s rivers will be in good ecological condition without any serious measures taken to stop pollution. That’s down from the current 14%. This goes against DEFRA’s goal to achieve and maintain good ecological status in 75% of our water bodies by 2027. We should be moving forwards, not backwards.

Only last year, the government allowed water companies to continue to dump raw sewage into our waterways until 2063.

And while the government stall on taking any real action towards ending sewage pollution, thousands of people like Andy are left to deal with the consequences of their inaction and water companies’ greed.

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