annick vanderschelden photograph via Getty Images
A video showing how untreated waste streamed into a Hampshire harbour for 49 hours has tapped into the national debate about UK sewage.
Just days before the government hosts COP26, the UN’s global climate summit, MPs rejected an amendment to the Environment Bill which would force water companies to stop allowing untreated sewage to enter British waterways.
BBC Breakfast shared some particularly shocking footage from photographer Chris Pearsal of a pipe feeding sewage into a harbour on Tuesday.
The pipe in the clip is seven foot wide, and released sewage into Langstone Harbour – a formally recognised conservation area known as a ‘site of special scientific interest’ – for 49 hours on Thursday 21 October.
Explaining the social media reaction to his footage, Pearsal said: ”[People] really are astonished at quite how much of this is happening and it’s happening right along our coastlines. And similarly, it needs to stop.”
Why is there so much waste going into our waterways?
This is down to the “combined sewer network” in the UK which did used to work and made sure our waste was treated.
Now, with more housing and more storms, the sewer system is often filled to the brim and can spill out into the main waterways.
The network of waste drains, rainwater, road and land runoff is often overflowing even when it’s not raining.
Keith Davis of the Environment Agency’s water-quality department said: “We’ve got 15,000 storm overflows and the majority are on the combined sewer network with about 100,000 km of combined sewer in England alone.”
This is all worsened by climate change, population growth and the loss of land which can absorb rain – this increases runoff.
Callum Clench from the International Water Resources Association explained: “The EU sets rive water-quality standards – and the UK was regularly fined for failing to meet these standards.”
Pearsal’s video captures just the tip of the iceberg.
The Guardian reported last July that raw sewage was pumped into English rivers through storm overflow pipes more than 200,000 times in 2019.
The Environment Agency revealed in March this year that 3.1 million hours of human effluent flowed into English waters across 400,000 in 2020.
Surfers Against Sewage’s chief executive Hugo Tagholm also pointed out: “All of our waterways are connected.
“It’s one cycle: what goes into our rivers ends up in our oceans.”
104 days after been fined £90m for dumping sewage into the environment and less than 12 hours after Gov voted to protect water companies and not our rivers, @SouthernWater were dumping sewage at 60, yes 60, different locations along the south coast of England.#COP26 hypocrisy pic.twitter.com/y1KCVPYoTP
— Feargal Sharkey (@Feargal_Sharkey) October 21, 2021