“South West Water admitted they had allowed sewage to be pumped into the sea, saying it was a ‘controlled release’ and they had to do this because of heavy rainfall, to stop sewage backing up into people’s homes.”
Jen Mills metro.co.uk
The picturesque view of a popular Cornish cove turned to something much more disgusting this weekend when raw sewage was released into the ocean.
Trevaunance Cove in St Agnes usually boasts turquoise – or at least greeny blue – seas, but on Sunday the vista became almost entirely brown.
Some blue could still be seen towards the edge of the sewage slick, however, demonstrating that the colour change was not down to the sky being overcast but due to contamination of the water.
A local surfer shared footage of the grim sight with surfing magazine Carve, who posted footage online saying it was ‘Unbelievable. A dad just got out this arvo and said to his three-year-old “Best wash the sewage off…”
‘It is still stinking. No way am I surfing in that.’
Another video posted online showed brown liquid pouring out of a pipe at St Agnes, captioned ‘sh*t pouring into the sea’.
South West Water admitted they had allowed sewage to be pumped into the sea, saying it was a ‘controlled release’ and they had to do this because of heavy rainfall, to stop sewage backing up into people’s homes.
But they denied the brown colour was entirely due to sewage, saying they believe it was also due to ‘mud in the water dislodged by the heavy rain flowing into the area from a nearby stream and runoff from agricultural land’.
Many responded to say how saddened they were by the images, tagging in South West Water to demand they stop the practice.
One woman wrote: ‘This breaks my heart. I’ve played with my kids on this beach.’
Another said: ‘@SouthWestWater how DARE you. Can you imagine what this does to our marine life, let alone humans who choose to swim at this time of year. Shame on you. What have you got to say for yourselves?’
It comes amid growing concern about the amount of sewage being dumped in beaches in the UK. At the same time as wild swimming has been growing in popularity, the amount of sewage released into public waterways has been rising.
Water companies are banned from dumping raw, untreated sewage into our seas and rivers, but they get around it with an exception.
After heavy rainfall, they are legally allowed to release wastewater in order to stop the sewer system becoming overwhelmed.
These ‘storm overflows’ are only supposed to happen in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
But Surfers Against Sewage reports that they are occuring at an ‘alarming rate’.
Writing in Metro.co.uk in August, former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas blamed a lack of investment in the water network, lax regulation and cuts to funding for the Environment Agency, claiming that privatised water companies had ‘utterly failed’.
She said data suggests the amount of sewage pumped into UK waterways has increased by 2,553% in the past five years.
Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental group who monitor the waste dumping, warned that there were eight locations where sewage had been released at beaches in Cornwall this week alone: Gwithian Towans, Godrevy Towans, Trevaunance Cove, Crantock, Fistral North and Fistral South in Newquay, Mawgan Porth, and Widemouth Bay near Bude.
Their warning for Trevaunance Cove at St Agnes reads: ‘Pollution Alert: Storm sewage has been discharged from a sewer overflow in this location within the past 48 hours.
‘Trevaunance Cove is a small sand and rock beach set in a picturesque cove surrounded by high cliffs, also home to SAS HQ! A reasonable amount of sand is exposed at low tide and it is possible to walk over the rocks to the neighbouring Trevellas, while at high tide the whole beach is covered.
‘Two sewer overflows discharge into the Trevaunance Stream, 70m and 750m upstream from the beach. Other discharges from the surrounding urban area may also affect bathing water quality especially after heavy rainfall.’
A South West Water spokesperson told Cornwall Live: ‘This year the South West has seen the dramatic changes in weather patterns presented by climate change, as demonstrated in August when the region was declared in drought. Through these changes we are now experiencing more extreme weather patterns than ever before and this year the South West saw one of the driest and hottest years on record.
‘As well as prolonged periods of extremely hot weather, we have seen heavy localised rainfall which hasn’t been able to permeate into the dry ground, meaning significant volumes run into our network, which can cause our storm overflows to trigger.
‘Following heavy, localised rainfall this morning (October 30), a permitted storm overflow triggered at Trevaunance Cove in St Agnes, Cornwall. Storm overflows are designed to release excess storm water into rivers and seas when a prolonged rainfall occurs to prevent the risk of sewage backing up and flooding homes and public spaces by allowing a controlled release.
‘We continue to increase investment in the region’s infrastructure as part of our continued commitment to protecting and enhancing the natural environment.’
But a spokesperson later told Metro.co.uk: ‘While the storm overflow at St Agnes triggered briefly on Sunday following heavy rain, this was a short duration spill and is unlikely to have caused the level of discolouration shown in the video.
‘On this occasion, we believe there were other factors which contributed to the discolouration, such as mud in the water dislodged by the heavy rain flowing into the area from a nearby stream and runoff from agricultural land.
‘We continue to increase investment in the region’s infrastructure as part of our ongoing commitment to protecting and enhancing the natural environment.’