Watch: Raw footage pumped into harbour for 49 hours
A campaigner fighting to prevent water companies from pumping raw sewage into the country’s waterways has said people and animals have been made sick by the practice.
Conservative MPs sparked a public backlash after voting against an amendment to the Environment Bill which would have legally prohibited untreated sewage from being pumped into rivers.
However, on Tuesday, the House of Lords forced a climbdown by the government over the bill with peers backing a proposal to place a new legal duty on water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent sewage discharges.
It will put a legal duty on the utility firms to “secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows”.
Raw sewage entered rivers more than 400,000 times in England last year, according to the Environment Agency, with Brexit among the reasons cited for the worsening situation due to supply issues and chemical shortages.
Campaigners have warned untreated sewage has damaged ecosystems in the sea, is unsanitary, and is making people unwell.
Mike Owens, a windsurfer who lives on Hayling Island in Hampshire, painted a grim picture of the scale of the issue.
Owens spoke to Yahoo News UK after a video showing raw sewage being pumped into Langstone Harbour for 49 hours – which is near where Owens lives – went viral.
“In that video, there was discharging for 49 hours constantly – like the way you saw it,” he told Yahoo News UK. "This year, that particular outfall, was discharged for 42,000 minutes.”
Owens, an activist at Hayling Sewage Watch, said the health consequences of the sewage were severe.
“People are getting sick and infected,” he said. "Some have even been hospitalised to my knowledge – dogs and pets are being made sick.”
Owens said he has also become unwell after windsurfing in his local waters – and said he first became involved with campaigning to raise awareness over the issue when he fell sick.
“Probably six or seven years ago I started getting sick and infected on my local windsurfing beach,” he said. “I'm pretty much munching antibiotics full time.”
Hayling island is a popular windsurfing destination for water sports enthusiasts.
Reacting to the backlash, Downing Street initially said it “completely" agreed it was unacceptable for water companies to dump raw sewage in the country’s rivers, but defended the government’s actions
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said the amendment “remains un-costed”, but “the initial assessments are over £150bn and that would mean that individuals – every one of us as taxpayers – paying potentially thousands of pounds each as a result.”
However, as the backlash rumbled on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced a climbdown and said the bill would be “further strengthened” to put in place a “duty enshrined in law” to ensure water companies “secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows”.