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  • Samantha Winters

Streamline: The United Kingdom's Sewage Problem

In the last year, the United Kingdom has faced a massive problem regarding its Water supply. Over the past six years, the UK has dealt with large amounts of sewage contaminating their Water. However, more recently, the severity of this problem has increased immensely. A report from Surfers against Sewage, a grassroots movement for ocean advocacy states, “the sewage pollution in UK waters has risen by eighty-seven percent during the last year”(Surfers against Sewage). Justifiably, this has caused quite the outrage, with locals demanding action and an explanation of how this happened. So how did this happen? For the past few years, the various Water utility and bottling companies have dumped sewage and other pollutants into multiple lakes, oceans, and rivers.

Diving into this topic deeper, it is essential to understand what sewage contamination fully entails. What sewage contamination means is that the Water could contain laundry waste, urine, or fecal matter. With that point clarified, it just reinforces how dire this problem is. If the public is drinking and using this contaminated Water, it could lead to serious health complications. While Water pollution has always been a significant problem, the Environmental Agency has started to form stricter guidelines for passing their Water quality standards. These same bodies of Water faced testing in 2016, and they passed the test by ninety-seven percent. In 2020 the Environmental Agency tested these bodies of Water again. The difference is that now they are being held to higher standards to ensure the safety of the UK's population. With this new test, only fourteen percent of the Water was deemed safe. Since 2020 this issue has persisted, but its start dates back much earlier. In the United Kingdom, this issue worsened in 2010 when the government passed a bill. This bill stated that UK Water companies were allowed to self-report any pollution, essentially asking companies to use the honor system if and when they were polluting bodies of Water. As expected, this backfired immensely and resulted in many companies lying about their pollution rates. One of the biggest offenders was the company Southern Water, which has recently been under severe fire. Southern Water is one of the biggest proponents of sewage pollution, which has caused unnecessary problems for southern parts of the UK, specifically North Kent and East Hampshire, where Southern Water dumped the sewage on the coast. For years, various Water companies worked to hide issues from the public, but many companies were forced to speak up within the past year. When multiple reports from non-profits and grassroots organizations called out these companies, not only were the companies forced to release statements and take action but the public was also outraged. The Water they had been consuming could have contained fecal matter or urine; it was unfathomable that these companies continued to hide information that could be detrimental to the populations' health. The public was angry and demanded to take action against these companies.

Today many of these companies are facing significant lawsuits in court. According to an article from The Guardian, "Southern pleaded guilty to 51 counts of knowingly permitting entry to coastal Waters of poisonous, noxious or polluting matter or waste matter or sewage effluent, namely untreated sewage, otherwise than as authorized by an environmental permit". In this case, the company was found guilty and now owes ninety million pounds for reparations. Additionally, the whole United Kingdom has instituted text message alerts about their Water quality and notifications if there are sewage findings. However, Southern Water is not the only company involved in this sewage problem. There are still many other companies with upcoming cases who are still flying under the radar.

Sewage pollution is awful in the United Kingdom, but unfortunately, this is not an isolated issue. Many other companies are polluting the Water in different countries worldwide. Within our Streamline series, we work to illuminate this problem and other similar issues regarding Water pollution.

After watching this case unfold, Water & believes that the United States could take notes from the UK and implement Water quality alerts and tests to ensure the health and wellbeing of the U.S. population.


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