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An award-winning photographer has shared footage of raw sewage being pumped into a harbour on the south coast and urged water companies to stop the practice.
The issue of untreated sewage being dumped in the UK's waterways became a subject of heated public debate after Conservative MPs voted down an amendment proposed by the House of Lords to legally ban water companies from the practice.
Chris Pearsall took the video of a 7ft pipe at Langstone Harbour in Hampshire in action with his drone. He says the pipe was pumping out sewage over a 49-hour period.
A Hayling Island native, Pearsall said he had never seen anything like it in his 50 years as a photographer.
“I’ve been in the job 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he told Yahoo News UK. “It just happened that last Thursday, the sun was out, it wasn’t too windy, and it was pumping out heavily.
“I put my drone out, and I couldn’t believe my eyes what was coming out of that pipe; you really needed an aerial view to get a true sense of what was going on.”
Last week, MPs voted by 268 to 204 to disagree with an amendment to the Environment Bill tabled in the Lords that sought to place a new duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers and demonstrate reductions in the harm caused by the discharges.
On Tuesday evening, the government climbed down over the issue with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) saying the bill would be “further strengthened” as it looks 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”.
Campaigners have highlighted that the sewage is making people unwell, is unsanitary, and is also risking antimicrobial resistance.
Pearsall says Hayling Island is near the location of the sewage dumping.
"I'm from Hayling Island, which is one of the reasons I’m personally concerned about it because it pollutes our beaches,” he said.
“We don’t want tourists and water sports enthusiasts coming here and getting sick.”
The island is one of the most popular destinations for windsurfers in the UK.
Pearsall said he thinks the public at large were broadly unaware of the scale of the problem, but is optimistic this could be a moment of change following the response to his video.
“I think the whole thing is now possibly unstoppable,” he said.
He added: “We can’t wait 25 years for the water companies to sort this out, this needs to be sorted out in the next five years.”
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.
Defra said the amendment that would be brought forward in the Commons during the next stage of the bill would be “very similar to amendment 45” - the one that was being debating in the House of Lords and which the Government was expected to lose.
The announcement comes only hours after Downing Street had defended the decision to whip against last week’s amendment.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was “not right to sign a blank cheque on behalf of customers” after the Government put the cost of delivering on the terms of the Commons amendment at more than £150 billion.
But Environment Secretary George Eustice has admitted that the Government’s proposed change to the Environment Bill will still result in rising household water bills.