South West Water attend scrutiny meeting at Blackdown House

South West Water has attended a scrutiny committee meeting with East Devon District Council to discuss sewage discharge at Exmouth. 

The meeting on November 2 was attended by lan Burrows, Southwest Water Director of Environmental Liaison and Culture, Exmouth Town Councillors, East Devon District Council Paul Arnott and representatives of ESCAPE Exmouth.  

Adam Manning

The scrutiny committee met at the East Devon District Council offices at Blackdown House for a ‘Presentation by South West Water on beach and river water quality followed by questions from Members of the Scrutiny Committee, Members and the public.’ 

Ian Burrows took questions from members of Escape on sewage pollution and discharge following heavy weather at the storm overflow on Exmouth beach and what measures South West Water can take to make residents more aware when a discharge is taking place.  

The company say they are looking into using Event Duration Monitors (EDMs) on 100 per cent of all its overflows. The question of upgrading the sewage treatment plant in Maer Lane and making information on water quality readily available to the public was also discussed. 

ESCAPE’s Geoff Crawford said: “I was pleased to be able to “zoom” in to this EDDC / SWW scrutiny committee meeting. It’s certainly good to see democracy in action and that would not be practical if online zoom meetings were not available. The councillors were knowledgeable and keen to question SWW robustly. They did a good job. Many questions were around the monitoring and reporting of sewage overflows and discharges. SWW admitted that the current reporting system is inadequate and difficult to understand. They committed to installing alert devices (EDMs) to 100% of their CSO overflow pipes by 2023.” 

“SWW committed to a near real time notification of a sewage discharge to the public but could not say when or how that would happen. A lot of emphasis was placed on the reporting of overflows to the public 24/7/365. Now most overflows are not reported to the public and the local message board system only works from May to September despite water sports, swimmer and beach users being year-round. 

After the meeting Councillor Olly Davey said: “I welcome the willingness of SWW to meet with local councils to discuss issues, and the assurances they have given that sewage discharges into the rivers and seas will be reduced in future, but given the pace of development in East Devon, and the years they have had to address these problems, I am not hopeful of an early solution. I also note that there seem to be no plans to end the transport of sludge to the Maer Lane Treatment Works.” 

Councillor Joe Whibley said: “I’m pleased that South West Water have finally managed to explain the situation as they see it but disappointed that, despite admitting when I asked that this is severely damaging to the town’s reputation, feel that adhering to minimum standards and blaming others is sufficient. It isn’t! New infrastructure that safeguards our beaches and waters is needed urgently.” 

A South West Water spokesperson said: “We welcomed the opportunity to meet with East Devon District Council and local residents to discuss a variety of matters including the operation of storm overflows over the summer, tanker movements to and from Exmouth wastewater treatment works, and our plans for the future. 

 “It was a constructive, interactive and engaging discussion around South West Water’s largest environmental investment programme in 15 years, WaterFit, which is now well underway, focused on delivering benefits for customers, communities and the environment. 

 “Through WaterFit we will dramatically reduce our use of storm overflows, reduce and then remove our impact on river water quality by 2030 and maintain our excellent bathing water standards all year round.”