More on “dry spills” (which are anything but dry)

The full Surfers Against Sewage report is a “must read” and can be found here.

“Excellent” Seaton, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Beer, Sidmouth are all listed in descending order of numbers of “dry spills”. [Worst first] – Owl

Devon sewage dumps are ‘putting swimmers at risk’

The impact of sewage discharge on Devon’s bathing spots has been revealed in a shocking report. Today, Surfers Against Sewage released the Water Quality Report 2022, which analysed discharge alerts, meteorological data and reports of ill health to paint a damning picture of the scale of sewage spills across the UK.

Alex Davis

During the 2021/22 bathing season, research from SAS showed sewage was dumped into bathing waters 5,504 times in the UK, for a total of 15,012 hours. According to SAS, at least 146 sewage discharges occurred in multiple instances when there was no rain recorded between October 2021 and September 2022– despite regulations stipulating that outflows should only occur during ‘unusually heavy rainfall’. South West Water were the second worst water company for dry spills in the UK, reporting 21 dry spills between May 31 – September 31 2022.

Examples include sewage spills at Croyde Bay on June 21 and Sidmouth Town in 2022, despite there being no cases of ‘unusually heavy rainfall’. Croyde Bay is part of North Devon’s World Surfing Reserve due to the quality of the surf and importance of the ocean to the region’s community.

Teignmouth Holcombe suffered the most dry spills in Devon between October 2021 – September 2022 and the third most in the UK, with sewage discharged five times. Surfers against Sewage is an environmental charity based in Cornwall who campaign to end sewage discharge into UK bathing waters by 2030.

The governments Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan states that overflows at a designated bathing ground must be designed to achieve no more than three overspills for a “good” rating, and no more than two overspills for an “excellent” rating. The table below shows all designed bathing areas in Devon where an overspill occurred in 2022.

Bathing waters impacted during the bathing season- 15 May to 30 September (source: Surfers Against Sewage)

RankBathing Water NameClassificationSewage HoursCount of Spills
5Plymouth Hoe EastGood373303
43Plymouth Hoe WestExcellent4559
44Thurlestone SouthExcellent3910
60Mill BayExcellent2623
76Seaton (Devon)Excellent177
78Dartmouth Castle and Sugary CoveExcellent1623
92Budleigh SaltertonExcellent125
95Woolacombe VillageExcellent124
105Hope CoveExcellent87
111Ilfracombe HeleGood76
112Slapton Sands TorcrossExcellent72
113Teignmouth HolcombeExcellent715
114Sidmouth TownExcellent72
118Salcombe South SandsExcellent69
129St Mildred’s Bay, WestgateExcellent56
138Beacon CoveExcellent46
143Combe MartinSufficient32
159Westward Ho!Excellent22
167Ilfracombe Tunnels BeachExcellent12
172Paignton Preston SandsExcellent11
176Paignton Paignton SandsGood11
177Widemouth SandExcellent12

The report also argued that sewage in Britain’s oceans and rivers was having an impact on the health of bathers. Between 1st October 2021 and 30th September 2022, 720 water users contacted Surfers Against Sewage to report they had become ill after entering the water. The campaign says that’s more than double the amount of reports received in the 2020/21 season.

Of the 720 reports, 424 (58%) said they had become ill in bathing water with “Excellent” water quality ratings. Symptoms reported include respiratory issues, gastroenteritis and infections in the ear, nose and throat.

As well as having health implications for those swimming in infected water. The campaign said their consumer survey showed 11% of people became sick due to entering British waters, which they calculate as costing the economy £21.7 million a year in sick leave.

(Image: Surfers Against Sewage)

Dr Anne Leonard, an environmental epidemiologist and microbiologist based at the University of Exeter, said: “We’ve known for over one hundred years that sewage contains disease-causing microorganisms, and that ingesting water contaminated with this kind of waste causes infections. These infections may be mild, self-limiting illnesses but they can also be really severe infections that require medical treatment.

“We are particularly concerned about the presence in sewage of disease-causing bacteria that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics – so called antibiotic resistant bacteria. We are running out of antibiotics that are effective against the most resistant bacteria, so keeping sewage away from our rivers and beaches is a key public health intervention to reduce preventable infections and limit our reliance on antibiotics.”

Tiverton and Honiton dumped sewage 2766 times in 2021 – the 25th worst record in the country. MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Richard Foord, raised the report in Parliament after his son also became ill after swimming in a local river this summer. He said: “This is an environmental scandal. I will be seeking to raise this report in Parliament today and calling on Ministers to explain why water companies are getting away with making these illegal ‘dry spills’.

“It is deeply shocking to hear people from across the South West, the Lake District and beyond have become sick from swimming in lakes and coastlines as a result of these ‘dry spills’. My own son became ill swimming in a Devon river.

“Months of chaos in Government and an ever-changing cast of Environment Secretaries has meant that instead of action taken to hold water companies to account, we have only seen empty threats from Government. Those MPs who voted against a ban on these sewage discharges last year should hang their heads in shame.

“The time is now to save Britain’s wild swimming spots and wildlife. This is a wake-up call to Conservative Ministers whose instinct is to do nothing.”