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New report highlights ‘true scale of task’ in fight for cleaner open water

One in six days during the official bathing season were rendered unswimmable due to sewage pollution, according to a new report published today.

Surfers Against Sewage’s 2021 Water Quality Report revealed there were 5,517 sewage discharge notifications issued by water companies between October 2020 and September 2021.

That represented an 87.6 per cent increase on the previous 12-month period.

The report also shows that only 14 per cent of the country’s rivers are deemed to have ‘good’ ecological status – and six in eight tested pose a continuous serious risk to human health.

Data included in the report is based on figures voluntarily provided by some water companies and at coastal bathing waters.

However, there has been welcome progress around access to data around sewage pollution incidents this year – and the new Environment Act places a legal duty on water companies to provide year-round data on discharges.

This will help swimmers and other users to be able to make more informed decisions about when and where to swim going forward.

Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive, said the latest report was particularly shocking and urgent action was desperately needed to help alleviate the problem.

Main priority

She said: “This report shows the true scale of the task still facing all of us who care about the quality of our rivers, seas and lakes in our efforts to end the scourge of sewage pollution.

“Whilst the improvements around water quality data are important, of course the main priority has to be actually reducing the discharges themselves and improving the quality of our waterways for the benefit of users, wildlife and the environment more widely.

“The Environment Act places a duty to ‘secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from storm overflows’ on both the environment and public health.

“We would have liked to see the Government go further but alongside our partners on the #EndSewagePollution coalition we will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that the Act delivers on this promise and that we see the substantial improvements we so desperately need.

This latest report comes fresh off the back of the announcement earlier this month of a large scale investigation by the Environment Agency and Ofwat into potentially illegal sewage discharges at over 2,000 sewage treatment works across England.

Swim England is part of the #EndSewagePollution coalition which is fighting for improvements to UK water quality.

It is made up of organisations, environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local campaign groups, national governing bodies, media and ocean activists.

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