Defra responds to Surfers Against Sewage report

Defra has responded to the Surfers Against Sewage report which claims that 60% of inland swimming spots monitored by the group would be classified as ‘poor’ if officially designated as bathing waters.

In an official release, Defra said:

“It is important to be aware that the 40 sites that Surfers Against Sewage mention are not designated bathing sites, and therefore are not included in published bathing water statistics.

“Substantial improvements have been made to bathing waters. In 2022, 93% of designated bathing waters met the highest standards of ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, up from just 76% in 2010 and despite stricter standards being introduced in 2015. In the early 1990s, just 28% of bathing waters met the highest standards in force at that time. These improvements have been driven by £2.5 billion of investment and facilitated partnerships.

“Surfers Against Sewage’s report also looked at the number of times untreated sewage was discharged into UK waterways. The Government and the Environment Agency recognise the volume of pollution in our waters is utterly unacceptable, which is why stringent targets have been set to reduce discharges. We are also clear water companies must not profit from environmental damage and Ofwat has been given increased powers under the Environment Act 2021 to hold them account for poor performance.”

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“We agree the volume of pollution in our waters is utterly unacceptable, and this is the first government in history to take such comprehensive action to tackle it.

“Our Plan for Water is delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to ensure every overflow is monitored, reduce all sources of pollution and hand out swifter fines and penalties.

“This plan includes targets so strict they are leading to the largest infrastructure programme in water company history – £60 billion over 25 years – which in turn will result in hundreds of thousands fewer sewage discharges.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said:

“We share Surfers Against Sewage’s absolute commitment to improving water quality in England, and much of the data released today is available because of the significant steps we’ve taken to improve the regulation of our waterways.

“Whether its tackling agricultural pollution, road run-off or sewage discharges, we know there is more to do to improve designated bathing sites and our waterways, which is why we will work with everyone – from farmers or water companies through to citizen scientists – to reduce pollution.

“We will also take action against polluters where there is evidence permits have not been complied with and we are conducting our largest ever criminal investigation into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at thousands of sewage treatment works.”



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