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Raw sewage dumped into rivers 16,000 times last year by Anglian Water





Raw sewage was dumped into rivers more than 16,000 times last year by Anglian Water according to shocking figures published by the Environment Agency.

The sewage was pouring into local waterways for more than 89,000 hours, the data shows.

An apparent sewage leak, on April 3, 2023, downstream of Anglian Water's Milton sewage works. Picture: Keep Waterbeach Rural
An apparent sewage leak, on April 3, 2023, downstream of Anglian Water's Milton sewage works. Picture: Keep Waterbeach Rural

That was a significant reduction compared with the previous year – and Anglian Water has declared itself “pleased with this progress”.

However, the Environment Agency has said that any decrease in spills seen across the UK last year was “largely down to dry weather, not water company action”.

A Friends of the River Cam spokesperson suggested that prison sentences for water company bosses who oversaw large amounts of sewage spills would help to focus minds on improving the situation.

Terry Macalister, from the Friends of the River Cam, said of Anglian Water: “I think they’re in complete denial about what is the appalling state of affairs that they’re presiding over. But unfortunately, as long as the Environment Agency and ultimately the government just talks about cracking down on the water companies instead of actually doing something, then this is going to continue.

“It’s an actual disgrace. It shouldn’t be happening. It means children, like my kids – who used to throw themselves into the river after school in the summer – have no idea what level of danger they’re subjecting themselves to. These water companies just keep on going and the executive pay keeps on coming in.”

The Environment Agency’s ‘event duration monitoring’ (EDM) data for water companies measures the number of sewage spills and how long they lasted.

An apparent sewage leak, on April 3, 2023, downstream of Anglian Water's Milton sewage works. Picture: Keep Waterbeach Rural
An apparent sewage leak, on April 3, 2023, downstream of Anglian Water's Milton sewage works. Picture: Keep Waterbeach Rural

Anglian Water recorded 21,351 raw sewage spills in 2021, which fell to 16,082 in 2022. The number of hours sewage was dumped into rivers by the water company dropped from 194,594 in 2021 to 89,518 in 2022.

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “The data clearly shows that overall number of hours of spills from our storm overflows reduced by over 50 per cent last year compared to 2021. We are also well on track to ensure all our storm overflows are monitored by the end of the year.

“While we are pleased with this progress, there is still a great deal to be done to reduce the impacts of spills on our rivers and waterways. This year, we are investing £39m to reduce the impacts from storm overflows, and as part of our Get River Positive initiative, we have committed to eliminate all serious pollutions by 2025, a goal we are currently on track to meet.”

A Little Blue Dot protest with Friends of the River Cam in 2021
A Little Blue Dot protest with Friends of the River Cam in 2021

But the Environment Agency pointed to last year’s drought.

A spokesperson said: “The 2022 EDM data shows a decrease in spills, which reflects last year’s drier than average weather. Despite claims by water companies and Water UK, the body that represents their interests, there is no evidence to show it is because of water company action.

“In fact, last year water companies only made improvements to 65 storm overflows – less than 0.5 per cent of the overall total of overflows in the entire system – so we are very confident that water company action has not significantly contributed to the reduction in flows overall. For them to claim otherwise is wilfully misleading.

“What is very clear from the data they have provided is that the number of spills they are allowing on the sewerage network is far too high and totally unacceptable. We are considering whether any action is required under our Enforcement and Sanctions Policy.”

South Cambridgeshire’s Tory MP Anthony Browne said: “The discharge of untreated sewage into our rivers and streams is disgusting, environmentally damaging, and needs to end.

An apparent sewage leak, on April 3, 2023, downstream of Anglian Water's Milton sewage works. Picture: Keep Waterbeach Rural
An apparent sewage leak, on April 3, 2023, downstream of Anglian Water's Milton sewage works. Picture: Keep Waterbeach Rural

“Anglian Water in particular has a history of large fines, with historic incidents of sewage discharges caused by negligence and lack of maintenance at their sites. Their data shows there were over 500 hours of sewage discharge in one South Cambridgeshire village alone, which is totally unacceptable. They need to understand the public anger and invest to end sewage discharge for good.”

[Read more: Anglian Water has breached permit covering amount of treated sewage released into River Cam since 2015]

The Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, Pippa Heylings, has called for a ban on these sewage discharges in protected waters, as well as a ban on water company executives being paid multi-million pound bonuses.

She said: “Local people are furious that our swimming locations and previous wildlife habitats have become poisoned with raw sewage. The Conservative government just doesn’t seem to care. I think it’s time the environment secretary resigned.”



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