November 21st 2023.
Dozens of popular swimming locations in the UK may soon be deemed as 'poor quality', according to a new report released by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). This report, which covers 40 locations, has revealed the shocking state of UK bathing waters.
The 20 surveyed sites which were popular for swimming, and 20 which were upstream of nearby sewage overflow associated with the spots, did not meet the Environment Agency's standards for 'bathing water' quality. The research found that 24 of these locations would be deemed 'poor quality' if they had been official bathing waters. In addition, four out of 20 locations showed a clear decrease in water quality from locations upstream to those downstream of a sewage overflow.
The report also highlights that in 2023, untreated sewage was discharged more than 399,000 times into UK waterways – the equivalent of more than 1,000 discharge events every day. SAS received 1,924 reports of cases of sicknesses due to sewage pollution in the last year - many leading to hospitalisation, events cancelled, earnings lost and businesses closed.
Giles Bristow, chief executive of SAS, expressed his frustration: "Our annual water quality report reveals the complacency and disregard of governments, water companies and regulators towards the health of rivers and coastlines in the UK – and by extension people’s health. We are seeing failure at every level – from governments and regulators failing to enforce the law, to water company fat cats pocketing dirty money and refusing to clean up their act – with the general public ending up the biggest loser every time."
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for the environment, Steve Reed MP, added: "The water industry is broken after 13 years of Tory government – with stinking, toxic sewage lapping up on our rivers, lakes, and seas. It is disgusting that families and children cannot enjoy our waters without the threat of getting sick."
SAS emphasised that leaders need to become more transparent and ensure laws regarding water quality are enforced. A Water UK spokesperson said that water industry investment has transformed coastal bathing water, but that the same needs to be done for rivers and inland bathing areas. An Environment Agency spokesperson said they will take action against polluters where there is evidence permits have not been complied with.
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said: "We agree the volume of pollution in our waters is utterly unacceptable, and this is the first government in history to take such comprehensive action to tackle it. Our Plan for Water is delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to ensure every overflow is monitored, reduce all sources of pollution and hand out swifter fines and penalties."
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