‘Rivers dying before our eyes’ as sewage spills soar at worst-hit pollution spot

Sewage spills at the UK’s worst-hit spot increased 50 per cent since last year, according to new data, with campaigners saying that England’s rivers are being “choked”.

Overall, water companies spilled sewage into England’s rivers and canals 372,533 times in 2021, accounting for more than 2.6 million hours.

The worst-affected spot was at Napton, on the Oxford Canal, where sewage was spilled 6,046 times in the year – an increase from 3,958 the previous year.

River campaigners said the new figures were further indication of the failure of the Government and water companies to keep England’s rivers clean.

“These figures show another year of our waterways being choked by sewage pollution,” said Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link. “This must change, for our own health as well as that of plants and animals struggling to survive in our polluted waters.”

‘We cannot wait to 2050 to fix this’

The Government has promised to put pressure on water companies to stop 80 per cent of sewage spills, but with a deadline of 2050.

“We cannot wait to 2050 to fix this problem. Our rivers are dying before our eyes,” said Stuart Singleton-White, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust.

The Environment Agency acknowledged that the data showed water companies have been discharging sewage into waterways far too often.

Overall, the number of sewage spills was lower than in 2020, which is believed to be the result of drier weather in certain parts of the country.

Water companies are allowed to release sewage into rivers to stop flooding into people’s homes, but only in exceptional circumstances.

However, data that has been collected since 2020 showed water companies routinely using these sewage overflows, sometimes as often as 1,000 times a day.

‘National scandal’

Nearly 12,400 sewage treatment works, around 86 per cent of the total, now send data from their monitors. A further 300 have monitors installed.

The data also revealed that sewage was dumped into waters containing shellfish 29,000 times last year, prompting concerns that shellfish could become contaminated.

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat spokesman for the environment, said: “This is a national scandal. England’s treasured shellfish are now at risk from the reckless behaviour of water companies.”

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “The present situation is simply not good enough. Water companies need to act now to reduce their overflows to the minimum possible.”


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