‘National scandal’: Failing monitoring systems found at 50% of England’s sewer overflows

Sewage overflow monitors have been found to be faulty, not functioning, or non-existent at almost 10% of England’s designated bathing spots, with almost half of overflows not fully monitored across England, according to analysis by the Liberal Democrats.

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An analysis of Environment Agency data by the Liberal Democrats has found that a number of sites designated by the regulator as bathing waters do not have reliable monitoring of their combined sewer overflows (CSOs). 

The analysis found that there is no sewage monitor installed at Long Rock bathing site in Cornwall, Littlehampton in Sussex, or Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire. 

At Seaford in Sussex, the sewage monitor was only working a third of the time, according to the party. 

The data shows that taking all relevant water companies into account almost 10% (9.02%) of designated bathing waters do not have a fully functioning sewage monitoring system in place. 

Looking at all CSOs, not just those impacting bathing sites, the analysis shows that a quarter of overflows (24.32%) have either no monitor or a faulty/non-functioning monitor. 

Anglian Water comes out worst in the analysis, with half (49.48%) of their CSOs lacking monitoring. South West (30.98%) and Severn Trent (29.38) follow.

Liberal Democrats environment spokesperson Tim Farron MP said that the situation was “a national scandal and these new figures stink of a cover-up”.

“Britain’s seaside resorts are being swamped by foul sewage yet the government is nowhere to be found. Why on earth are Conservative ministers letting them get away with this?,” he said.

Commenting to the BBC, Anglian Water is reported as saying work had already been done to improve the issue.

A spokesperson for the company said: "All but three of the places designated for bathing in our region are rated as good or excellent for bathing water quality, and all have Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) monitors installed on them." 

They added the company planned to have devices installed "across all CSOs by the end of 2023". 

A Water UK spokesperson told ENDS that England is “the first country in the world to have established a comprehensive monitoring programme for storm overflows”, and that every CSO will be monitored by the end of 2023 “allowing companies to target investment where it will be most effective”.

“When monitors are installed they go through a period of calibration until they are considered fully operational, this doesn’t mean they are faulty but that companies are ensuring they are returning accurate data.” 

The spokesperson continued to say that “companies agree there is an urgent need for action to tackle the harm caused to the environment by spills from storm overflows and wastewater treatment works” and that they are investing over £3 billion to improve overflows as part of a wider national programme to improve the environment between 2020 and 2025.”

The Environment Agency has said that it increased the number of CSOs monitored across the network from 800 in 2016 to more than 12,000 in 2020, and last week, water minister Steve Double said this government was the first to have taken action to tackle sewage overflows. 

“We have been clear that water companies’ reliance on overflows is unacceptable and they must significantly reduce how much sewage they discharge as a priority…. Work on tackling sewage overflows continues at pace and we will publish our plan in line with the 1 September statutory deadline.”