Bathers warned away from 25 beaches polluted by sewage in Wales

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“You weren’t expecting to go swimming this bank holiday weekend, anyway, were you?”

Coastal tourist hotspots in Wales should be teeming with people this Bank Holiday weekend. But instead, people are being told to avoid them because of sewage pollution. 

Surfers Against Sewage, a leading UK marine conservation campaign charity, monitors water quality at over 450 river and coastal locations so people can swim, surf or splash without the risk of becoming ill. This week, the campaigners issued alerts that more than 25 beaches in Wales have been polluted by storm sewage or given a poor water classification.

Some of Wales’ most popular tourist destinations, including Criccieth, Tenby, Colwyn Bay, and Swansea, have been deemed as unsafe due to sewage pollution.

The campaigners warned how storm sewage had been discharged from sewer overflows within the past 48 hours at many beaches. They informed how short-term pollution is caused when heavy rainfall washes faecal material into the sea from livestock, sewage and urban drainage via streams and rivers.

Posting a report of the alerts on X, environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey, who is vice chair of River Action, mocked: “You weren’t expecting to go swimming this bank holiday weekend anyway were you?”

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Fresh crisis for Thames Water as investors pull plug on £500m of funding

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In July, Thames Water had agreed £750m of funding, with the first payment expected to be made on 31 March. Photograph: Maureen McLean/Shutterstock

Decision raises concerns about financial future of UK’s biggest water company

Investors at Thames Water have pulled the plug on £500m of emergency funding, raising concerns about the financial future of the country’s largest water company.

The beleaguered utilities firm announced this morning that its shareholders had refused to provide the first tranche of £750m funding set to secure its short-term cashflow, after the company had failed to meet certain conditions.

The crisis for Thames Water comes after devastating data on the scale of raw sewage discharges into rivers and seas this week.

Thames Water, who admit in their business plan they have been “sweating assets”, oversaw a 163% [increase?] in the duration of sewage dumping into rivers as their creaking infrastructure failed to cope with rainfall levels.

Thames is also at the centre of a major investigation by the water regulator Ofwat into sewage dumping from its treatment works, which could lead to massive financial penalties being imposed on the company.

Thames Water said on Wednesday that investors believed the conditions of funding had not been met and the £500m of new equity would not be handed over in the coming days.

A statement on behalf of Thames’s shareholders appeared to blame Ofwat: “After more than a year of negotiations with the regulator, Ofwat has not been prepared to provide the necessary regulatory support for a business plan which ultimately addresses the issues that Thames Water faces. As a result, shareholders are not in a position to provide further funding to Thames Water.

“Shareholders will work constructively with Thames Water, Ofwat and government on how to address the consequences of Ofwat’s decision.”

Continue ReadingFresh crisis for Thames Water as investors pull plug on £500m of funding

4m hours of raw sewage discharges in England in 2023, data expected to show

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Raw sewage discharges are allowed to be released from storm overflows on the network only in exceptional circumstances, such as very heavy rain. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Exclusive: Environment Agency figures due out on Wednesday to reveal 129% increase in total discharges on previous 12 months

More than 4m hours of raw sewage discharges poured into rivers and seas last year, a 129% increase on the previous 12 months, new figures are expected to reveal on Wednesday.

Total discharges from the 14,000 storm overflows owned by English water companies that release untreated sewage into rivers and coastal waters increased by 59% to 477,972, making 2023 the worst year for sewage spills, according to an early estimate of the Environment Agency figures seen by the Guardian.

Senior industry sources were preparing for the government to turn its guns on water companies after the record year of discharges. The Environment Agency said it was setting up a whistleblowing hotline for people who work in the industry to report any activity that concerns them.

The heavy rainfall over the autumn and winter is likely to be blamed by the industry for the huge rise. Storm overflows are supposed to be used only in extreme weather but for many years they have been used routinely, discharging raw sewage even on dry days in some cases. The academic Peter Hammond has shown how water companies are routinely using storm overflow discharges in their water management.

Continue Reading4m hours of raw sewage discharges in England in 2023, data expected to show

Watchdog confirms government may have broken law on river pollution

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The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), the government’s own environmental watchdog, has confirmed that the government may have broken environmental law by the watering down of critical regulations on the pollution of rivers in England.

The disclosure was made in response to a legal complaint made by ClientEarth and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) in November 2022 against the Environmental Agency for its failure to monitor and enforce environmental protections on nitrogen pollution.

The complaint was based on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted by WWF and ClientEarth. The FOIs revealed that between January 2020 to December 2021 the Environment Agency conducted 2,213 inspections of three key agricultural regulations, identifying breaches in almost half of farms. However, only one case was issued with a civil sanction.  

According to ClientEarth and WWF, these inspections represented just 2 percent of farms each year, suggesting that the Environment Agency has “little idea of the scale of law breaking taking place and of the damage being currently done to the environment.”

Given the high levels of nitrogen pollution in England, WWF and ClientEarth accused the Environment Agency of “an unlawful abdication of its statutory responsibilities.”

In response to the WWF and ClientEarth’s complaint, the OEP agreed that the Environment Agency had potentially breached environmental law by failing to adequately assess environmental impacts on protected conservation sites before allowing farmers to exceed manure spreading limits. English rivers are particularly at risk of nitrogen-related pollution, with over half the country classified as vulnerable to nitrogen run-off.

Continue ReadingWatchdog confirms government may have broken law on river pollution

House of Lords give damning assessment of Therese Coffey’s dealings with water companies

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Image of a burst water main.
Image of a burst water main.

Committee slam a ‘lack of leadership and deep-rooted complacency’

A House of Lords committee has given a damning judgement into the work of environment secretary Therese Coffey, finding ‘deep-rooted complacency’ in government dealings with water companies.

This has come at the risk of water shortages and extreme environmental consequences, the industry and regulators’ committee found, due to a ‘lack of leadership’ in government which has meant water companies have failed to protect the environment and the water supply.

In a letter to Coffey, the committee warned that a continued under-investment in water infrastructure will have ‘serious long-term consequences for the environment and the security of water supplies’, risking future water shortages.

The inquiry was launched in June as a follow-up to a previous report titled ‘The affluent and the effluent: cleaning up the failures of water regulation’ which concluded large scale failures in the water system from under-investment and insufficient government strategy.

Continue ReadingHouse of Lords give damning assessment of Therese Coffey’s dealings with water companies