Surfers call for end to sewage discharge by 2030 after reporting 3,000 spills in 2020

Surfers Against Sewage’s (SAS) 2020 Water Quality Report found there had been 2,941 combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharge notifications between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020. That was based on data from its Safer Seas Service, which uses information provided by water companies. It reported 1,195 of these notifications were issued during the official Bathing Season (15 May to 30 September) and that 6% of “swimmable days” had been lost to sewage discharges.

The activist group criticised Southern Water specifically, for failing to provide CSO discharge notifications for popular beaches throughout the whole bathing season. SAS said the water company issued just 78 alerts, compared to 690 in 2019. It argued: “Their failure to provide this information has put thousands of water users at risk. Over 20% of health reports submitted to us this year were from locations within Southern Water’s catchment with a total of seven submitted for Hove Lawn alone –these are just the locations we know about. These illnesses could have been prevented if discharge notifications had been issued.”

In a statement, Southern said its voluntary notification scheme, Beachbuoy, has had “teething problems” and that “an improved service is being finalised in consultation with stakeholder groups including Surfers Against Sewage” which would include notifications 365 days a year. It added that 58 of its 83 beaches are rated as excellent for water quality and none fall below the acceptable standard.

The SAS report also highlighted “fundamental flaws in the water quality testing regime and Bathing Water classification process. Some of the worst pollution incidents are being wilfully ignored, giving us a false view of the true state of recreational water quality…As a result, it is suggested that 65 Bathing Waters receive higher classifications than they should. On top of this, the government fails to properly regulate and enforce against continued water pollution by water companies and farming, with inadequate investment and resources to empower regulators, undertake investigations, and enforce tough penalties.”

SAS said its ambition is to end sewage discharge into UK Bathing Waters by 2030. It will be delivering its #EndSewagePollution petition to the environment secretary on Tuesday 10th November.