Greens call for action and investment from Southern Water to put an end to sewage spills

Support for sustainable flood prevention schemes in the city follows serious health concerns around raw sewage discharges in the sea around Saltdean

Calls for greater investment and engagement from Southern Water following repeated reports of untreated sewage being dumped into the sea off the city’s coast were agreed by councillors last week. This follows Green proposals put forward to councillors on the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee.

Concerns about the practices of sewage dumps by water companies reached Parliament recently, after it was suggested government would reject calls in the Environment Bill to place a legal duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into seas and rivers. Campaigners have frequently raised the need for tougher legislation to protect local water supplies, based on the principle that the polluter should pay. While water regulator OFWAT is responsible for issuing fines, a legal challenge was launched this week to try to overturn a decision allowing a water company immunity from private legal action for discharging untreated sewage into a canal in Manchester.

Greens say stronger action is needed to protect local marine life, ensure good bathing water quality, provide stronger flood defences and ensure the sustainability of water supplies across the region. Campaign group Surfers Against Sewage have estimated that untreated waste water was discharged on to English and Welsh beaches on 2,900 occasions in a single year, with Environment Agency figures showing a year on year increase of discharges. Closer to home, Southern Water used the Portobello Storm Outfall near Saltdean to dump raw sewage more than 50 times last year, posing a significant threat to human health and marine ecology. The proposals by Green councillors ask that the CEO of Southern Water to come to the council’s Health, Overview and Scrutiny committee, to explain what actions will be taken to address concerns about health and water safety.

While sewage overflows are often utilised following heavy rain, significant investment in drainage would reduce the incidences on which this would occur. Furthermore, unless our drainage systems are overhauled soon, the number of sewage dumps looks likely to increase as climate change causes increasingly heavy rainfall.

Greens say communities can be supported to manage the risk of flooding and prevent raw sewage leaks through investment in sustainable urban drainage systems – known as SuDS. These introduce a range of environmental measures such as wetlands, ponds, green roofs, rain-water harvesting systems and porous asphalt and grass to help absorb, slow and prevent water run-off. In Sweden, SuDS systems have been crucial to flood prevention, absorbing up to 90% of stormwater in some areas and preventing the need to discharge sewage overflow into the sea.

Following news from Lewes, where Southern Water helped invest in local solutions, Greens say the public need to understand how concerns will be addressed by private water companies and what plans are in place to support residents.

Southern Water received a £90 million fine after pleading guilty to thousands of illegal discharges of sewage into rivers from Sussex through to Kent and Hampshire, that which caused major harm to conservation sites and protected areas.

Councillor Elaine Hills, member of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, commented:

“The council has already been pushing for sustainable urban drainage systems to become the norm – asking that developers include a detailed drainage strategy in all applications for major developments. Through our Green climate change investment, we’ve also put SuDS schemes into Wild Park and Carden Avenue. Ways to sustainably prevent flooding are also being explored by the South Downs National Park and other partners. New council developments like Victoria Road also include systems to help recycle rainwater to help support green spaces for residents. This is the way forward.

“It’s clear that there are real alternatives to the practice of negligent sewage dumping that causes harm to our bathing water quality, as well as to our fragile marine ecosystem and conservation areas. Residents want to know that companies like Southern Water are part of the solution, not the problem. We invite them to invest in sustainable water management locally and to explain their plans before councillors and the public, in order to ensure illegal sewage dumps are a thing of the past. Private companies have the future of our water systems in their hands – and we need them to be held to account, and to work with local communities to help us tackle the problems we all face.”


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