According to the Environment Agency there were 3.6 million hours of spills compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022. Water UK, the industry body for sewerage companies, said it was ‘unacceptable’ but the record levels were due to heavy rain. Sewage spilling can be legal but environmentalists say it should only happen in exceptional weather.

And the Environment Agency said: “It is important to note that heavy rainfall does not affect water companies’ responsibility to manage storm overflows in line with legal requirements.”

Heavy rainfall in the autumn and winter is thought to be behind the huge increase in raw sewage discharges just announced by the Environment Agency. Latest figures show more than 4m hours of discharges were poured into rivers and seas last year, a 129% increase on the previous 12 months.

Table: How long did sewage spills last for in your area. Data for England, 2023. Source Environment Agency.


Total discharges from the 14,000 storm overflows owned by English water companies that release untreated sewage into rivers and coastal waters increased by 54%, making 2023 the worst year for sewage spills.

The data also shows that in 2023:

  • The average number of spills per overflow was 33 compared to 23 in 2022 and 32.6 in 2020;
  • 40% of storm overflows spilled less than 10 times in 2023 compared to 48% in 2022 and 40% in 2020;
  • 9% of storm overflows did not spill at all in 2023 compared to 18% in 2022 and 13% in 2020.

The Guardian reports that senior industry sources were preparing for the government to turn its guns on water companies after the record year of discharges. Sewage discharges are also thought to be behind the discovery of E coli in the River Thames, leading Boat Race organisers to warn rowers not to enter water. The Oxford team confirm illness before the Boat Race but stop short of blaming pollution.

The Environment Agency is setting up a whistleblowing hotline for people who work in the industry to report any activity that concerns them.

To read more click here.

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