BBC Countryfile ‘Countryfile presenter Tom Heap is no stranger to the difficult issues on the show as he is often primed to investigate various problems in the countryside, but tonight’s segment showcasing the horrific reality in the country’s rivers left viewers truly stunned. It’s no secret the United Kingdom is subject to a pollution problem and while the population are much more aware of the importance of recycling and looking after the environment there is still a long way to go. But tonight’s Countryfile highlighted an entirely different difficulty facing the nation and it comes down to the incorrect filtering of sewage into rivers.   Combined sewage overflows (CSOs) are sewer systems which collect wastewater, domestic sewage and excess rainwater in the same pipe. But on a visit to the Windrush river in the Cotswolds, BBC presenter Tom discovered a number of unsavoury items floating in the water due to the presence of hidden overflows or ones simply not monitored.

Among the items there was a used sanitary towel nearby a CSO entrance, leaving viewers utterly horrified at the state of the country’s rivers. Tom explained that a Government warning was issued to get water companies to introduce “monitoring for the vast majority of their CSOs by 2020”. It would involve getting water companies to declare how often their CSOs overflow, and for how long. But while the one featured on the programme is now being monitored, according to the presenter, there are still 700 across Britain that are potentially polluting rivers freely. This means only a third of all the CSOs are actually being monitored, and is a worrying figure for water nature and rivers in the UK.

After being approached by the BBC series’ host, Thames Water issued a statement on the issue. “There is the potential for dilute waste water to impact water quality,” it read. “But there are also many other factors, outside of our control, that affect water quality.”

Defra ‘Tom Heap from BBC Countryfile reported on Combined Sewage Overflows or CSOs that are used to relieve pressure on sewage systems during heavy rainfall. It said that in England and Wales where water companies rely on 15,500 CSOs there have been 70,000 recorded spills of untreated waste in 12 months. The story focused on CSOs operated by Thames Water and United Utilities. The story was also picked up by local BBC outlets throughout England.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: Work done around the coast to upgrade sewerage systems and reduce pollution has led to a dramatic improvement in water quality over recent decades but there is more to be done to protect the environment. We have an ambitious programme to ensure that water companies monitor about 75% of overflows by 2020 increasing to over 80% by 2025.’

Correcting the problem doesn’t come cheap

South West Water has completed a £21million project to improve water quality in the region’s rivers.   The water company has made significant upgrades to its wastewater infrastructure and treatment works across the region to protect or improve designated shellfish waters to support shellfish life and growth. The project involved improvements at 22 locations across eight estuary catchments: the Dart, Exe, Teign, Camel, Fal, Yealm, Avon and Salcombe.

Senior Project Manager Steve Cross said:

“The £21million investment included improvements to stormwater overflows through various methods. Wherever possible sustainable solutions have been developed which include removing surface water from the sewerage network and reducing infiltration.

“Other solutions included providing upgraded screens, increasing stormwater storage capacity and upgrading the treatment process at wastewater treatment works.”

The programme included a £3.6million ultraviolet disinfection plant installed at Countess Wear Wastewater Treatment Works to treat the intermittent stormwater overflow, a £500,000 stormwater storage tank in Truro and a £730,000 upgrade at Sherford Wastewater Treatment Works.

A total of 2,275 cubic metres of stormwater storage has been constructed as part of the project. This additional stormwater storage capacity in the sewerage network and other improvements will reduce the number of storm discharges into rivers and estuaries during extremely wet weather.

There are 137 designated shellfish waters in England, 25 of which are in South West Water’s region. The Environment Agency estimates that industry associated with shellfish production in the south west is worth £5.35million a year. Click here to read more

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