The news has led to calls for public ownership of water firms
An investigation by the BBC has indicated that three major water companies may have illegally discharged sewage hundreds of times last year. There is currently a ban on discharging sewage when it isn’t raining because it can lead to higher concentration of sewage in waterways.
The three firms in question – Thames Water, Wessex Water and Southern Water – may have released ‘dry spills’ of sewage into waterways 338 times in 2022 according to data the BBC has uncovered. This amounted to 3,500 hours worth of discharge last year.
Sewage being released into waterways when there is no rainfall has much more damaging environmental and health impacts as it is less diluted.
The BBC says it contacted all nine private water firms in England requesting data on spills, but only Thames, Southern and Wessex provided the information.
The news has been greeted with condemnation from campaign groups. We Own It – which campaigns for public services to be brought into public ownership – said the latest sewage pollution scandal is a result of ‘decades of underinvestment’ since the water companies were privatised.
Matthew Topham, lead campaigner at We Own It, told Left Foot Forward: “They dump sewage when it’s wet, they dump sewage when it’s dry. The problem isn’t the weather, or any other excuses private companies come up with: it’s the decades of underinvestment in infrastructure we’ve seen since privatisation.
“The tens of billions paid to shareholders since 1989 could have been spent preventing the sewage scandal unfolding. Now the tide is turning and water privatisation is being exposed for the rip-off it is.
“Government has the power to sort out sewage pollution by bringing water into public hands so that water companies can work for us, not private profiteers. One way they could kick start the process right now at no cost to the public is to legislate so that water company shares are given to the public when companies illegally pollute. That’s why we’re campaigning for Shares Not Fines. Enough excuses: let’s take back our water for people and planet.”
Thames Water responded to the BBC‘s findings, saying:
On these spills Thames Water said: “The Environment Agency’s methodology for calculating dry day spills is still being determined and we will continue to work with our regulators as they define this. We regard all discharges of untreated sewage as unacceptable, and we have planned investment in our sewage treatment works.”
Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward