A Stench in the Air | The Unsettling Reality of Sewage Water Pollution

In rivers and seas, the sewage does spill,
A nation disgraced, where clear waters thrilled,
Companies falter, the government slow,
Nature and health in a perilous woe,
Swift action we need, a plan to compose,
Clean water’s our right, this truth we all know.


The reality is that water companies across the UK have been guilty of pumping millions of litres of raw sewage into our natural water bodies.

The Unbearable Sight and Smell

Just imagine the horror of witnessing your favourite rivers and seas turning into repugnant streams of sewage. This isn’t a hypothetical situation. The reality is that water companies across the UK have been guilty of pumping millions of litres of raw sewage into our natural water bodies. Thames Water, the UK’s largest water company, has already been fined £3.3m for such a disgraceful act in 2017. Yet, these reprehensible practices persist.

A Smelly Apology?

What’s even more appalling is that these water firms have not only apologised for their actions but have also promised to clean up their act. However, the question that burns in everyone’s mind is, why do these spills happen in the first place? And why are they still occurring with alarming regularity?

The Gross Reality Behind The Spills

England’s sewage system, constructed in Victorian times, combines rainwater and wastewater from homes into the same pipes. In instances of heavy rain, these pipes risk becoming overwhelmed, which could result in sewage backup into people’s homes. To mitigate this, raw sewage is redirected into the sea or rivers through storm overflows. This poorly thought-out measure has led to unfortunate incidents, such as the Cornwall cove turning brown with sewage and Bexhill swimmers encountering floating faeces in the water.

The Unpalatable Statistics

The evidence of the overuse of storm overflows is present in the shocking statistics. In 2022, sewage was pumped into England’s waters at least 301,091 times—an average of 824 times a day. The number of sewage dumps for 2021 was an astonishing 372,533. However, the Environment Agency attributed this decrease to dry weather, not water company action.

The Price of Incompetence and Greed

Critics argue that sewage spills are not just controversial because of their impact on public health, but also because water companies’ proposed £10bn plan will be funded through higher water bills for customers. This essentially means customers are paying twice for a service they haven’t received. Feargal Sharkey, a musician and environmental campaigner, articulated this frustration succinctly, criticising water companies for their incompetence and greed.

The Seafood Industry’s Trust Crisis

The fallout of this pollution extends beyond just public health and reaches into the economy as well. For instance, Graham West, owner of a seafood supplier in Whitstable, known as the UK’s oyster capital, now spends £1,200 a week sourcing his oysters from Jersey due to fears of local water contamination.

A Toothless Apology and Inadequate Action

In response to the backlash, water and sewage firms have issued a public apology and a £10bn plan for the “biggest modernisation of sewers since the Victorian era”. This proposal includes enlarging pipes, improving sewage treatment capacity, treating overflow spills, and establishing a National Environment Data Hub. While these measures may sound impressive on paper, they come with a catch: household water bills will increase to pay for these improvements.

A Tardy Clean-Up?

Despite the ambitious plans, water company bosses admit that sewage spills will not be eradicated entirely due to the Victorian-era design of the system. Moreover, critics point out that the proposal lacks urgency and that water companies should act faster and more decisively.

A Plea for Urgent Action

The issue of sewage water pollution is far from resolved. With raw sewage discharges into English rivers numbering in the hundreds of thousands each year, urgent action is necessary. Critics urge the government and water companies to accelerate their timelines and provide immediate and sustainable solutions.

The Time for Action is Now

It’s high time that we, as responsible citizens, demand stricter regulation and proactive measures to prevent such gross negligence and environmental degradation. Let’s make our voices heard and prompt our government to take stringent actions against water pollution. We cannot afford to pay the price for the incompetence and greed of water companies. Let’s act now for a cleaner, safer, and healthier future.

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About Rev Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell

Rev. Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell, an Englishman deeply connected to Thailand, was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood on 28th May 2023.

In addition to his religious journey, he has worked as an online English teacher and pursued a career as an artist. He has also operated a tour desk business with his wife within international brand hotels.

Lloyd has extensive experience in the voluntary sector, specifically in addressing homelessness and social welfare.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and embraces opportunities to meet new people, see new places, explore cultural similarities, and celebrate differences.