Ministers have no idea how many beaches in England shut due to sewage

(Or the economic cost – Owl)

Water companies told the EA they dumped raw sewage into rivers and seas 372,544 times last year, for 2.6m hours. The real figure is believed to be much higher though, due to underreporting. …

Data shows that currently no river passes tests for both ecological and chemical health as a result of a cocktail of pollution from sewage, agricultural runoff and industry.

Helena Horton www.theguardian.com 

The government has no idea how many beaches in England have been shut due to sewage pollution this year, ministers have admitted.

This summer, scores of beaches across the country were forced to close in high season after raw sewage was dumped into the sea near the coast. Surfers Against Sewage found that in August alone, at least 90 beaches across the country had been sullied by sewage.

Just last week, the Cornish beauty spot St Agnes saw its blue waters polluted to a murky brown colour after waste was spilled into the sea.

The Conservative government has claimed water quality is a “top priority” and that current sewage pollution levels are unacceptable, but despite this, Defra minister Trudy Harrison admitted that beach closures are not even being monitored. In a parliamentary answer this week, she said: “Neither [Defra] nor the Environment Agency holds information on the number of beach closures due to sewage pollution in England.”

A second question tabled by Labour’s shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon also disclosed that the government has not conducted any impact assessments into how allowing sewage pollution affects tourism and coastal businesses financially.

McMahon told the Observer: “Whilst the Tories continue their game of prime minister pass-the-parcel, Labour has a clear plan to protect our coastal communities from filthy raw sewage, by forcing water firms to clean up their act.

“Families across the country should be able to enjoy where they live, work or holiday, and businesses should not have to worry about the Tory sewage scandal hitting their trade.

“A Labour government will use the levers of power to hold reckless water bosses to account and toughen regulations to prevent them from gaming the system.”

Amy Slack, head of campaigns and policy at Surfers Against Sewage, added: “This news comes as no surprise as it’s entirely in keeping with the government’s laissez-faire approach to sewage pollution. Until those in power show they are serious about cracking down on the profiteering polluters of the water industry, sewage will continue to be dumped into the UK’s rivers and seas, at huge cost to public and environmental health. Now that the lid has been lifted on the sewage scandal, people across the country are rising up and demanding an end to sewage pollution.”

In the summer, Labour revealed that on average water companies in England and Wales are pumping raw sewage into our natural environment every two-and-a-half minutes, with areas such as beaches, playing fields and bathing waters affected over a six-year period.

Earlier this year McMahon said a future Labour government would implement measures to force water companies to progressively end sewage dumping.

Sewage is spilled regularly into England’s rivers and other waterways. Water companies told the EA they dumped raw sewage into rivers and seas 372,544 times last year, for 2.6m hours. The real figure is believed to be much higher though, due to underreporting. This is partly due to inadequate infrastructure, which means that when it rains sewage systems are mixed with storm overflows, which are then spilled without being treated into rivers, the ocean and even lakes.

Data shows that currently no river passes tests for both ecological and chemical health as a result of a cocktail of pollution from sewage, agricultural runoff and industry.

Defra’s annual report last week revealed no progress had been made in the past year on improving river water quality, with just 16% of rivers deemed to be in a good ecological state, the same as in 2016. The lack of progress means the government is unlikely to meet the legal threshold of 75% of rivers achieving good status by 2027 under the water framework directive (WFD).

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