Sewage dumped in shellfish water 29,000 times by water companies

  • New fears shellfish could be contaminated by sewage dumps as over 200,000 hours of sewage is pumped into their habitat
  • The worst offenders are South West Water and Southern Water
  • Tim Farron slams lack of action from the Government: “Why aren’t Government Ministers listening to the public on this? They are ignoring the country’s outrage at this scandal.”

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats has found sewage was dumped into waters containing shellfish a staggering 29,000 times last year. The party has raised fears this could be taking place again this summer.

This equates to 207,013 hours worth of sewage in shellfish waters in England in just one year alone. The worst offenders were South West, Southern Water and Anglian Water.

The longest sewage dump event into shellfish water last year took place at Morecambe Bay by United Utilities – lasting 5,000 hours. Worst still, the sewage monitor only worked 15% of the time, meaning that figure could be much higher. In Sussex, Southern Water dumped sewage into Chichester Harbor for 4996 hours in just one overflow.

It comes after Southern Water’s sewage discharges closed Bexhill and Normans Bay beaches in the height of summer.

At the other end of the South Coast, Exmouth beach in Devon was marked unsafe to swim for nearly a week after at least two separate sewage discharges at the tourist hotspot. Exmouth beach also contains shellfish, last year South West Water dumped sewage into the sea for 1128 hours from just one overflow.

Liberal Democrats have called for a Sewage Tax on water companies, after firms which pump sewage into lakes and rivers made over £2.8 billion in profits. The tax on their profits would produce a fund worth hundreds of millions to prevent sewage polluting rivers.

In Parliament Lib Dem MPs backed amendments to the Environment Bill to end sewage discharges. However, this was blocked by Conservative MPs who voted against sewage discharges into rivers and coastlines being banned.

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Environment said:

England’s treasured shellfish, our prawn, crayfish, lobsters and crabs, are the forgotten victims of this environmental scandal.

The past week we’ve seen our beaches closed because of these polluting water companies. All the while, they are raking in billions of pounds in profits and forking out eye-watering bonuses to their CEOs. Frankly, the whole thing stinks.

Why aren’t Government Ministers listening to the public on this? They are ignoring the country’s outrage at this scandal.

Conservative MPs voted against a ban on sewage dumping. That means right now water companies are still pumping disgusting sewage into the homes of shellfish.

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  • Tim Farron is right to blame government ministers for the water companies’ failings. It is Ofwat which should be directing capital spending and levying fines to ensure compliance, but ministers appoint Ofwat directors, and should be overseeing their performance.
    We should, however, not get distracted by a populist clamour for re-nationalisation, or outrage over CEO’s bonuses. Buying back privatised utilities would be hugely expensive, and would return us to the pre 1990 era in which competing for government funding left utilities short of capital – a legacy which is still one of the reasons our water infrastructure is still largely so antiquated. Since privatisation Ofwat ought to have ensured that more of the profits went into investment rather than dividends, but that is a failure of regulation, not privatisation.
    Water company CEOs are clearly over-paid, partly due to the cosy club of senior executives on pay review boards, and partly because it can be claimed “you have to pay the market rate, or you won’t get the best people”, a self-sustaining cycle that can push pay up to stratospheric levels. However, CEOs’ pay is a tiny fraction of what we pay for water, and their large bonuses and deferred share options could be a useful tool for Ofwat. Meaningful fines for poor performance would reduce profits and therefore share prices and bonuses, so the more the senior executives have to lose, the bigger their incentive not to miss performance targets.

  • Chris Platts 23rd Aug '22 - 12:08pm

    It is shameful that this activity is permitted at all,it reflects the lack of enforcement processes the Dept of Environment has ,it needs to be stopped immediately.This is a consequence of lax standards and regulations. The water companies like all the other services like power and rail need to brought into public ownership. Also the standardsand regulations need to be tight don’t rigorously enforced.

  • @Andy – Good points, with respect to “meaningful fines”, I suggest the best way to make them effective is in addition to dividends, to make the payment of executive bonuses (and a percentage of their pay above the Additional Tax threshold) conditional on targets being achieved. Additionally, in the case of sewage dumping, they should be crediting bill payers with that day’s element of their bill, ie. each day they dump sewage, the customers get a rebate on their foul water bill (think along the lines of late/cancelled trains, with the rebate being paid automatically given customers are effectively season ticket holders).

  • Helen Dudden 24th Aug '22 - 3:38pm

    With polio and other illness being found in sewers is that one reason not to dump raw untreated waste.
    When Public utilities are there to make a profit that’s not a good buy for any of us.
    Also recently selling the NHS was something I read about. The NHS should have had some protection against this happening.

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