Water companies have pumped raw sewage into Britain’s seas and rivers for more than nine million hours since 2016, new data suggests.
The figure is an increase of 2,553% over five years, according to the Labour Party’s analysis of Environment Agency (EA) data, released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Between 2016 and 2021 water companies discharged sewage into waterways and the sea for a total of 9,427,355 hours, the equivalent of 1,076 years.
It comes as the EA issued warnings to holidaymakers to avoid dozens of beaches across England and Wales this week.
Untreated sewage water was spotted pouring into the sea near Bexhill, East Sussex on Wednesday.
On Saturday, the red flags were removed, meaning the water was officially deemed safe to bathe in.
The beach, however, was near-deserted.
‘Filthy, murky, stinks’
Residents of Bexhill told Sky News they find what they describe as “regular sewage dumps” along the coast “devastating”.
Rachel Streeter moved to Bexhill-on-Sea in 2007 to enjoy wild swimming and the beach.
She described seeing faeces floating in the water on swims.
“It’s filthy, murky, and it stinks. Flies actually fly above the surface of the water as well as the sewage. It’s quite obvious,” she said.
Rachel says her friends and family have all become sick after swimming.
Her 79-year-old mother went for a swim last week and fell ill with “a severe bacterial infection”.
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Businesses say they are being affected by it too.
Cliff Meadon, who runs canoeing and kayaking business Epic Life, and says he has lost “thousands” over the last two years due to sewage dumps.
“We’ve had to cancel sessions. We’ve been on the water with groups when we’ve had to come in as the sewage comes out. We’ve seen it,” he said.
In Hastings people were advised not to swim due to a pollution risk this week.
Beaches in Normans Bay as well as Bexhill were closed but have now reopened.
The sewage dumps were blamed on heavy rainfall.
A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “This week’s heavy rain has fallen on to dry ground that can’t absorb surface run-off, meaning that more rain than usual has overwhelmed our network.
“This led to some overflows – which are used to protect homes, schools, businesses and hospitals from flooding – spilling excess water into the sea.
“These discharges are heavily diluted.
“We are dedicated to significantly reducing storm overflows and are running innovative pilot schemes across the region to reduce the amount of rainfall entering our combined sewers by 2030.”
The Environment Agency declined to comment.
Southern Water was fined £90 million last year for widespread pollution after pleading guilty to more than 6,000 unpermitted sewage discharges.
The discharges were carried out between 2010 and 2015.
Southern argued the sewage dumping had not been deliberate, and after the case said the company was committed to transformation, transparency and cultural change.