River Wye

Water and sewage companies sorry over sewage spills

Water and sewage companies in England have apologised for “not acting quickly enough” on sewage pollution and have announced a £10 billion upgrade of sewage systems

Water and sewage companies in England have today apologised for “not acting quickly enough” on sewage spills.

Alongside the apology, they have pledged a £10bn upgrade of sewage systems and to cut spills by up to 35% by 2030. In addition, they have announced a new environmental hub that will provide “near real-time information on overflows” to “increase transparency and allow the public to hold companies to account”.

Great news for swimmers

Water companies have also pledged to help up to 100 communities “interested in protecting rivers and other outdoor areas of water for the purpose of swimming and recreation”. Each water and sewage company in England will “support the roll-out of new river swimming areas, by providing help to up to 100 communities to test the water, draw up plans, apply for legal protection, and work with regulators to fix local sources of pollution”.

The announcement was made by Water UK, the industry body that represents England’s nine water and sewage companies. It follows mounting criticism from campaigners, the government and the public over the number of times raw sewage has spilled into the UK’s waterways.

Time for action

Ruth Kelly, Chair of Water UK, said: “The message from the water and sewage industry today is clear: we are sorry. More should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner and the public is right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches.

“We have listened and have an unprecedented plan to start to put it right. This problem cannot be fixed overnight, but we are determined to do everything we can to transform our rivers and seas in the way we all want to see.”

Environmental charity River Action UK welcomed the news: “An honest apology is a good start,” they announced on Instagram. “There still remains a huge amount of work to be done to end the blight of sewage pollution, but this is a positive step in the right direction.”

Tessa Wardley, Director of Communications & Advocacy for The Rivers Trust, says, “This apology and commitment from water companies is important, especially for those who love to swim and take recreation in rivers like myself. If the increased investment, transparency, and accountability in this announcement is delivered, it will make a difference in reducing sewage pollution and improving water quality, as well as helping nature to thrive again.

“We do still need to look at improving treated sewage effluent, road runoff, and agricultural pollution, which all cause more harm to rivers and coastal waters than sewage spills. However, overall this is a really big step on the journey towards healthier rivers.”

For more environmental and water safety news, sign up to our newsletter

Stay up to date with The Dip, our free weekly outdoor swimming newsletter.

Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.