Sewage discharges in our rivers and seas is not acceptable


AFTER the equinox everything seems to change, and not just the amount of daylight we enjoy. It feels more autumnal and as if everything is slowing down.

One thing that does change is that the Environment Agency stop reporting on bathing water quality from October 1.

In 2019, water firms discharged raw sewage into England’s rivers 200,000 times.

South West Water recorded 273 discharges in the 2019 season. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Environment Agency recently indicated that they might lower water quality standards for rivers and the sea.

The Surfers Against Sewage Safer Seas Service app recorded more than 3,000 sewage discharges into coastal bathing waters during last year’s ‘bathing season’ alone.

The ‘bathing season’ is only from May to September. Outside that period there is no obligation to report on water quality despite many visitors and residents enjoying swimming, surfing, SUP, kayaking, sailing and paddling throughout the year.

In Lyme we have swim line buoys to encourage and provide safety for sea users all year round. We have visitors 52 weeks a year and they are vital to our economy, especially in a time of COVID.

It’s costly to treat sewage and stormwater, and our water bills are high anyway. But South West Water’s accounts show that they made nearly £140million in profit last year. Can’t some of this massive profit be invested in eliminating raw sewage discharges into our sea?

Surfers against Sewage was formed in the 1990s specifically to represent sea users health concerns about what the newly privatised water companies were neglecting. And they were successful in getting legislation passed to make them invest in better sewage treatment infrastructure.

But things have slipped over the last 30 years; our population has increased, tourism has boomed, and ways to get around the legislation have been developed so we have ended up with raw sewage being discharged more and more often into our rivers and seas.

We’re being failed by water companies. There is no statutory obligation to report sewage discharges to the public. Worse still, the government and Ofwat are letting them get away with it.

We all need to make it known that this isn’t acceptable – our town council, residents and businesses alike should be demanding an improvement, especially in Lyme where we are so reliant on visitors and the draw of the sea, local business dependent on the sea and our own wellbeing.

Start by petitioning and writing to our local MP and town council to demand better standards and world-leading water quality legislation that exceeds current EU standards and sets legally binding targets to end all untreated sewage discharge by 2030. Make sure you copy your  letter to your local water supplier too so they know how you feel about sewage overspills.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) offers a free app called Safer Seas Service, which you can download at

It will tell you when the sea near you has been polluted with a sewage discharge. It also enables you to quickly report any illness you might have contracted following sea bathing.

Using the app will also help SAS in gathering information to, hopefully, force our water companies to eliminate raw sewage releases and raise the standard of our bathing waters. There is also a tab to notify your local MP about your concerns on water quality and specific pollution ‘events’.

Let’s act now before we further damage our sea and lives further.

Grenville Barr,
Turn Lyme Green 

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