U.K. Water Companies Discharged Scary Amounts of Raw Sewage Into Water in 2021

Sophie Hirsh - Author

May 2 2022, Published 1:50 p.m. ET

Beach sewage discharge
Source: Getty Images

People relax on the beach at Viking Bay on June 26, 2020 in Broadstairs, Kent, England.

Raw and untreated sewage should not be dumped into bodies of water that are used for bathing, recreation, or drinking — full stop. However, a recent report found that raw sewage was released into English bathing waters about 25,000 times in 2021 alone. In fact, the situation is so bad that someone actually created a sewage discharge map of the U.K.

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Keep reading for the details on 2021 sewage “spills,” as well as links to several sewage discharge maps.

Beach sewage discharge map
Source: Getty Images

A group hold placards in front of a mass gathering of G7 paddle-out protesters organised by the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage, at Gyllyngvase Beach on June 12, 2021 in Falmouth, England.

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In 2021, water companies discharged immense amounts of sewage into U.K. waters.

As reported by The Guardian, several organizations recently released data on 2021 sewage “spills” in the U.K.

Much like an oil spill, a sewage spill is usually far from an accident, hence our use of quotes around the word “spill.” In fact, a “spill” is when a water company purposely pours sewage that is either untreated or only partially treated into bodies of water, including watersheds, rivers, and seas, according to the organization Top of the Poops.

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And as noted by the cheekily-named group, in 2021, across England and Wales, water companies intentionally conducted at least 470,000 sewage spills, which adds up to 3.4 million hours of sewage spills. (These figures encompass untreated, partially treated, and treated sewage.)

Not only that, but Top of the Poops noted that this figure is actually an underestimate, since much of the data comes directly from the water companies themselves.

U.K. political party the Liberal Democrats also compiled data on the topic, using Environment Agency statistics. The party found that in 2021, water companies discharged raw, untreated sewage into bathing waters along the coast of England 25,000 times, for more than 160,000 hours, The Guardian reported.

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Bathing waters are bodies of water that are designated clean and safe for the public’s use, for activities ranging from swimming to surfing. The U.K. government rates bathing waters as excellent, good, sufficient, or poor, and these classifications are typically displayed on beaches for visitors.

Sewage discharge maps of the U.K. help locals identify which beaches are clean and safe.

If you’re wondering which U.K. beaches have been affected by sewage spills, you’ll be happy (and also maybe a bit revolted) to know that there are a few sewage discharge maps of the U.K.

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Conservation organization The Rivers Trust created an interactive sewage discharge map, which identifies bodies of water where water companies released treated sewage, as well as where untreated sewage overflowed into, across England and Wales in 2021. You can view the map for free on the organization’s website, and zoom in or search specific locations to see if your favorite beaches are affected.

The Rivers Trust, which is based in England and Wales, recommends that everyone avoids going into any water “immediately downstream” of these overflows, and to most importantly follow this advice after any rainfall.

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Another organization registered in England and Wales, Surfers Against Sewage, also has an interactive water quality map on its website. Called the Safer Seas Service, this map aims to show locals which beaches have not recently had any pollution incidents.

And for another interesting look at the U.K.’s sewage, Top of the Poops has an interactive map (and list) documenting hours of sewage dumps, sorted by constituency. Like the other two orgs, this map also only includes data from England and Wales, but Top of the Poops notes that it is working to find and include data for Scotland or Northern Ireland. And once the organization does find that data, “the picture for the U.K. as a whole will be considerably worse,” the website says.

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