Make sure your summer holiday will be happy, not crappy, as the government’s Planning Inspectorate continues to allow the water companies to ignore Environment Agency regulation on combined sewer overflows polluting the UK’s beaches and rivers.
The holiday season will soon be upon us but the UK’s utilities corporations can carry on polluting our beaches through combined sewer overflows (CSOs), Victorian drainage outlets designed to cope with sewerage system overloads from storms and flooding. But there are 4,200 outlets pumping out raw sewage all year round, not just in emergencies.
These highly profitable corporations were allowed “deemed consents” 20 years ago to give them time to make improvements, thus enabling privatisation, and have still failed to clean up their act. But now the EA have sought to make water companies criminally liable for pollution, and may now appeal against the Planning Inspectorate’s ruling in their favour, as they suspect that the companies find it cheaper to dump sewage rather than send it to treatment plants when the weather is dry. And the European Commission is now preparing court papers to take Britain to the European Court of Justice to establish under what conditions CSOs can operate.
Environmental groups say the ruling allows water companies to carry on polluting beaches such as Combe Martin in Devon, judged the dirtiest beach in Britain last year with 3 CSOs. The EA and South West Water are investigating the poor quality of its bathing water. The CSOs there were used 57 times between May 6 and September 4 last year. When a new European Union bathing water directive comes into effect in 2015, signs will have to be placed on the beach informing bathers of the poor water quality if the situation does not improve. Staithes in North Yorkshire also has a CSO and a storm water outfall and has the worst cleanliness record in Britain, failing the minimum water quality standard 11 times in 13 years.
Thomas Bell, coastal pollution officer for the Marine Conservation Society, which will publish its annual list of the dirtiest beaches next month, said: “We believe the water companies are in breach of European law. When the system is full, a mix of flood water and raw sewage is shot down these pipes and dumped wherever the pipe stops.” Andy Cummins, campaign director at Surfers Against Sewage, said: “We are extremely disappointed. The water companies effectively have a licence to pollute. It is shameful to say these CSOs have no effect on water quality at all. Hepatitis A can survive for up to 90 days in sea water.”