Raw Sewage

An end to sewage in rivers

Raw sewage is entering UK rivers on a horrifyingly regular basis, damaging our river ecosystems and putting public health at risk. In 2019 alone, untreated sewage poured into England’s rivers for an astounding 1.5 million hours, over the course of 200,000 separate incidents.

What’s really shocking is that this practice is completely legal.

​A CSO discharging raw sewage into a chalk stream in London, courtesy of South East Rivers Trust

How on earth does sewage get into our rivers?

Across the UK is a network of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These are essentially Victorian-era relief valves on the sewage treatment infrastructure. If sewage pipes, or even a sewage treatment works, is becoming overwhelmed with sewage and rainwater, it is diverted and discharged into a nearby watercourse instead of backing up into homes.

Our rivers are already suffering, with only 14% considered ecologically healthy in the Environment Agency’s latest figures. As our population grows and we experience more extreme weather events as a result of climate change, the frequency of these discharges will only increase, unless action is taken.

Storm tank overflows

Not all sewerage systems are combined sewer systems, and some are separate systems with sewage going to sewage treatment works and rainwater going straight to watercourses.  In both systems storm tank systems may be used. A storm tank is a large concrete vessel designed to hold excess sewage that can’t be treated by the sewage works. When there has been rain sewage treatment facilities can reach capacity quite quickly. This is due to the extra flow from combined systems or from infiltration of rain and ground water into sewer pipes in separate systems. This means the works are then unable to treat the extra sewage and flows are diverted into storm tanks that typically can store a few hours worth of the excess flow. When the tanks are full the excess then goes straight into watercourses without any treatment at all.

CSO graphic courtesy South East Rivers Trust

What do we want?

  • We want to be able to see an end to the practice of discharging raw sewage into UK rivers
  • We want to be able to swim, paddle, fish and play in our rivers without the risk of contracting hepatitis, e-coli, gastroenteritis, and other unpleasant diseases
  • We want to give our native wildlife a chance to recover, and see our rivers full of life

Now is the time to act.

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill will ensure real progress towards stopping raw sewage discharges into UK rivers and coastal waters. It will require water companies to progressively reduce discharges from CSOs, improve their capacity to monitor all discharging assets and report publicly on the number, condition and quality of sewage discharges.

The Bill will also require the Environment Agency to take further action towards improving water quality, investigating the impact of CSO discharges on water quality and working with water companies to reduce harmful discharges.

We need your help.

This is a Private Members’ Bill, which means that it has been introduced by an MP who is not a government minister. These Bills have less time allocated to them, and only a small minority are ever passed into law. But lots of publicity around this issue, and support from other MPs, will put pressure on the government to take action and make legislative changes.

This is where you come in. Please write to your MP and ask them to support this Bill – it could make a real difference.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Write to your MP to ask them to support the Bill

Use this great tool created by The Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage to write to your local MP. The tool provides a template letter with localised data on CSO discharges relevant to where you are! It is automated and very simple to use and literally will only take 2 minutes of your time!

Visit now: https://www.sas.org.uk/EndSewagePollution-SewageBill

You can read the full Bill here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0016/200016.pdf

2. Ask your family and friends to do the same

The more people who write to their MPs about this Bill, the more likely it will receive the attention it deserves. Use the graphics below to share the Bill on Facebook and Twitter, asking your friends and family to support it too.

For Twitter

For Facebook

With thanks to South East Rivers Trust for shared content