Sewage Pollution: The Story So Far

May 13, 2022 9:30 AM
By Zoe Franklin

372534 Sewages DumpsThe practice of discharging raw sewage into our rivers, lakes and coastal waters was not one that the public was really aware of until late last year. However, once they were their anger and disgust at the practice was clear.

Shortly after it hit the news, the Guildford Lib Dem team and I organised a public protest to enable local people to show the strength of their anger and concern about the issue. It was attended by nearly 100 people despite having just a few days' notice. These residents came together with us to make it clear to Guildford's Conservative MP and Thames Water that enough is enough and that they would not stand for raw sewage flowing into the River Wey and its tributaries that flow through our communities; waterways on which people live, kayak, paddle, walk alongside, allow their dogs to swim in and use for many other leisure activities.

As I prepared for the protest and did press on the issue I was appalled by the extent of the problem. Waterways in Guildford saw 192 sewage discharge incidents totalling 1789 hours - the worst of which lasted 476 hours alone. Another stat that shocked me is that the River Wey flowing through Guildford and neighbouring Waverley is one of the worst 23% in terms of ecological and overall river health.

Of course, the situation in Guildford is being repeated in communities up and down the UK.

I also came to realise that the two key reasons the practice of sewage dumping has become commonplace with water companies are:

  • An ageing sewage network that water companies have failed to upgrade properly over the decades since privatisation.
  • Inadequate water infrastructure to cope with the development taking place in our communities.

And yet water companies continue to make huge profits without any sanctions from Government for the damage they are causing.

Alongside our local protest, I have been applying pressure regularly to Guildford and Cranleigh's Conservative MP, calling for her to act and urgently. So far, she has failed to do so, instead loyally voting according to the Conservative whip in every vote.

I have also taken my campaigning to a national stage, proposing an amendment at the Liberal Democrat party's Spring Conference with the aim of giving more power to local authorities to hold water companies to account, ensuring that they tackle existing problems that are a source of endless frustration and issues in our communities, and also that they can insist that new developments have adequate infrastructure built to cope with the extra pressure.

My colleagues in Westminster have also taken a firm line on the issue, continuing to try and get meaningful legislation to be brought in to tackle sewage pollution rather than the wishy-washy and sanction-free offerings of the Conservative Government. They are not giving up, and neither am I locally, on this important issue.

Timeline: Votes, U-turns and more votes

20th Oct 2021

Conservative MPs (including Guildford's MP) vote against proposals from Lords (amendment 25) to the Environment Bill that would have placed legal duties on water companies to reduce discharges into rivers.

A very mucky vote: How the Conservatives are failing to keep our coast and rivers clean

30th Oct 2021

Zöe Franklin and the Guildford Lib Dem team lead a public protest on the town bridge which nearly 100 people attend.

Will Guildford's MP recognise the local strength of feeling on sewage in our rivers and vote accordingly?

8th Nov 2021

Liberal Democrats propose a sewage tax to make water companies pay for the mess they have made of UK rivers. Conservatives vote it down opting instead for a weak new law that doesn't hold water companies to account.

Government and Guildford's MP ignore millions of people on sewage problem

16th Mar 2022

Liberal Democrats reveal Thames Water's staggering £488.8 million profit and reiterate the need for sewage tax on water company profits.

Call for Sewage Tax on Thames Water after £488.8 million profit revealed

31st Mar 2022

New stats show sewage was dumped into rivers 370,00 times in 2021.

The national scandal continues

18th Apr 2022

Lib Dems call for water company bosses bonuses to be banned until sewage discharges end

19th Apr 2022

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron proposes bill that would would ban water companies from dumping sewage into rivers and legislate to name and shame the companies found to poison animals.

New bill would end sewage scandal in rivers and protect animals