Few people would believe that in the 21st century, our precious rivers are still being used as open sewers. New monitoring data just released by the Environment Agency reveals the true extent of sewage pollution in England.

The headlines make for stark reading: more than 480,000 legally permitted sewage discharges occurred in 2020 alone.

Water companies in England are legally permitted to discharge untreated sewage effluent into rivers during periods of high rainfall when their sewage treatment works are overwhelmed. This means diluted human waste and all sorts of other nasties being flushed into that babbling brook flowing through your town or city. These all arrive through a network of over 12,000 pipes feeding directly into rivers, known as storm overflows.

Sewage pollution devastates aquatic life that depends upon clean water to thrive, and can also pose a real threat to human health. For decades, environmental organisations and partnerships such as the Colne Catchment Action Network (ColneCAN) have been lobbying to see tighter regulations on sewage pollution.

James Champkin, Partnership Manager for Colne catchment host Groundwork South, said: “We will continue to work with all stakeholders to lobby Government and the Environment Agency to properly hold water companies to account. We will demand the robust use of powers, ensure better investment and secure urgent improvements, for no longer can we allow raw sewage to be lawfully pumped into the water courses upon which we all depend”.


Pollution incident in West Hyde below the treatment works, February 2021.

 Event Duration Monitoring Storm Overflows 2020, The Environment Agency - the dataset can be downloaded here.

What is a Storm Overflow and how do they work? This also explains Event Duration Monitoring(EDMs) 

Event Duration Monitoring - Lifting the Lid on Storm Overflows. More information can be found here on the Environment Agency blog 

Design by LTD Design Consultants and build by Garganey Consulting. From an original concept by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.