Turn Lyme Green to monitor River Lim water quality after concerns raised about pollution

River Lim pollution
Signs have been erected along the River Lim to warn the public of potential pollution risks

RESIDENTS of Lyme Regis and surrounding areas have expressed outrage over potential pollution of our rivers and seas due to the dumping of raw sewage.

The issue of water companies dumping raw sewage into England’s rivers and coastal waters made national headlines this week following a controversial vote in the House of Commons.

Conservative politicians, including West Dorset MP Chris Loder, were high criticised after they voted to remove seven lines from an amendment to the Environment Bill, put forward by the House of Lords, which suggested putting a new legal duty on water firms to “take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows”.

The government said it was “disingenuous and untrue” to suggest MPs had backed dumping human waste into rivers. They said it would cost up to £660billion to upgrade England’s Victorian sewer system to stop all storm overflows overnight.

But following a huge online backlash and campaigning led by environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage, the government made a u-turn on Tuesday, announcing that the Environment Bill “will be further strengthened with an amendment that will see a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows”.

LymeOnline asked Mr Loder to comment on his initial vote to remove the lines regarding sewage discharges from the amendment.

He said: “Last week I voted to put a duty on water companies to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflow which they don’t do today, as part of the Environment Bill. This will also give the government the power to direct water companies who fail to provide or adhere to management plans designed to reduce the release of raw sewage in storm overflows. It’s a major step forward and a huge improvement on what is in place today.

“But why can’t we just ban this practice straightaway? Sewage discharge into our water courses has occurred for many years. I despise it, but it is important for us to understand what would happen if we completely banned it with no emergency outlet.

“Such discharge typically occurs when existing infrastructure isn’t sufficient to cope with surface water run-off during periods of heavy rain. The whole reason the emergency system of storm outflows exist is to prevent dirty water from entering properties or contaminating drinking water supplies, which when we have a Victorian water system built for a much smaller population, we have a pressure point.

“If the vote went through as it was, this amendment would have likely forced complete renewal, costing billions of pounds which would have forced many water companies into bankruptcy, with a considerable cost to each of us.

“My vote in the House of Commons was to improve the accountability of water companies to the British people, and to improve water quality for the benefit of everyone through forcing careful planning and long-term improvement to our sewage infrastructure.

“But I do agree that more could have been done which is one of the reasons I hope that MPs lobbying behind the scenes will go to clamp down very hard, especially if it is found that water companies are discharging unnecessarily.

“It is also worth everyone noting that parliament is doing its work and this Environment Bill has not completed its legislative path through parliament yet and it will likely have further improvements as it completes its legislative process and becomes law.”

‘People power can force positive change’

Speaking after the government u-turn, Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Over the past week, Ocean Activists across the country have raised their voices to declare that the continued destruction of our rivers and coastline is not an option.

“A huge thank you to everyone who has spoken out and forced the government to realise that we won’t accept the status quo of polluted water and profiteering water companies any longer. People power can force positive change.

“We look forward to scrutinising the government’s new proposals to make sure they will legally oblige water companies to invest to end sewage pollution – anything less will be unacceptable to the millions across the country demanding the protection of our precious blue spaces.

“We welcome the Environment Bill’s amendments on data, reports and presenting plans for improvement, but the crucial piece of the puzzle is the legal driver for water companies to act. The devil is in the detail and we demand an Environment Bill which seeks to end sewage pollution.

“After decades of raking in billions in profit, the water industry must now plough investment into protecting and restoring our amazing rivers and coastline. This landmark Bill must ensure that happens.”

Surfers Against Sewage map
THE Surfers Against Sewage map showing pollution risks two days after last week’s torrential downpours. Water quality in Lyme regis is not monitored ‘out of season’ but data from The Rivers Trust said there was a total of 146 hours of sewerage network discharges and overflows into the River Lim in 2020

The issue of sewage discharges was further brought to the fore following last week’s stormy weather and flooding.

Surfers Against Sewage published an image of its interactive map, showing water quality issues around the coast, two days after the torrential downpour with pollution risks flagged up all along the south coast.

In Lyme Regis, water quality is not monitored ‘out of season’, despite many taking part in water sports throughout the year.

However, according The Rivers Trust’s interactive map which shows where the sewerage network discharges and overflows into rivers, the Horn Bridge sewer storm overflow in Lyme Regis spilled 25 times for a total of 103 hours during 2020; the overflow at Jericho spilled nine times for a total of six hours; and the overflow at Gun Cliff spilled six  times for a total of 37 hours – a total of 146 hours.

Plans to monitor River Lim water quality

Concerns over pollution in the River Lim were recently raised by county councillor Daryl Turner, who requested that the Environment Agency and South West Water investigate the regular outflow of pollution into the Lim, near the Woodmead Road bridge.

On the request of Dorset Council, temporary signs were erected in the river warning the public of the pollution risks. Due to ongoing investigations, more permanent signage was then erected in September and Dorset Council requested that the Environment Agency and South West Water keep them updated.

Members of local campaign group Turn Lyme Green are also continuing to pressure the Environment Agency and South West Water for answers, and are now planning to set up a water quality monitoring project with the support of the South West River Trust.

The group plan to monitor the local water quality regularly, setting up several monitoring points along the river, and the Rivers Trust would collect the data.

Turn Lyme Green requested the town council support this project by helping to fund six testing kits, costing £25 each.

Speaking at this week’s full council meeting, Turn Lyme Green chairman Laura Noelle said this was a “relatively small sum” but was a great opportunity for the town council to show its support in tackling river water quality, as the pollution issues were “not a great advert for the town”.

As recommended by its new Environment Committee, the town council has now agreed to write to South West Water expressing its concerns about the water quality in the River Lim, and match fund the cost of the monitoring kits up to a total of £75.

In Cllr Turner’s report to this week’s meeting, he said there had been no notable sewage discharge in the Lim for the last 10 days, but South West Water had not yet confirmed it had found or resolved the outflow issue.

‘Committed to protecting rivers from pollution’

In its Storm Overflows Event and Duration Monitoring 2020 document, South West Water said: “Storm overflows are legal discharges from the wastewater collection network that occur in very wet weather to prevent flooding of homes and businesses.

“Over the last 20 years, investment by water companies has dealt with most of those storm discharges where the Environment Agency had identified environmental problems.

“But we recognise there is more to do, which is why the sector is planning to invest £51 billion over the next four years to further address storm discharges.

“In 2013, Defra set a requirement on water companies to be able to monitor the performance of the ‘vast majority’ of storm overflows by 2020. To achieve this, we fitted large numbers of event and duration monitors to our storm discharges.

“We use this data to make sure our network is still operating correctly and capable of meeting the new, more extreme weather we see from climate change.

“Over the years we have worked with the Environment Agency to identify any discharges that weren’t providing enough protection for rivers and coastal waters.

“This has led to considerable investments in additional wastewater treatment and stormwater storage capacity, and has played a part in delivering vastly improved environmental water quality in the South West.

“We, like all water companies, are committed to protecting rivers from pollution. This has included extensive upgrades to Wastewater Treatment Works and removing the raw sewage discharges that used to go into the sea around the South West coast.

“At privatisation we inherited a system where wastewater from around 40 per cent of the population discharged into the sea untreated.

“For storm overflows we have improved over 298 stormwater overflows to bathing waters and 382 to shellfish waters since 1989, by adding more than 222,100 cubic metres of additional stormwater storage built at a cost of over £100million.

“This work was targeted at those storm overflows which were having an adverse effect on bathing or Shellfish Waters, or the environmental quality of rivers. We have also invested significantly to install event and duration monitors (EDMs) on our intermittent discharges.”

JOIN OUR MAILING LISTStay up to date with all the news from Lyme Regis, Uplyme & Charmouth by signing up to our regular newsletter.

View our privacy policy.

Woodmead Halls