South East Rivers Trust (& the Wandle Trust)

An end to sewage in rivers?

Raw sewage is entering UK rivers on a horrifyingly regular basis, damaging our river ecosystems and putting public health at risk. In 2019 alone, untreated sewage poured into England’s rivers for an astounding 1.5 million hours, over the course of 200,000 separate incidents.

What’s really shocking is that this practice is completely legal.

A CSO discharging into the Hogsmill, a chalk stream in South London.

How on earth does sewage get into our rivers?

Across the UK is a network of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These are essentially Victorian-era relief valves on the sewage treatment infrastructure. If sewage pipes, or even a sewage treatment works, is becoming overwhelmed with sewage and rainwater, it is diverted and discharged into a nearby watercourse instead of backing up into homes.  

Our rivers are already suffering, with only 14% considered ecologically healthy in the Environment Agency’s latest figures. As our population grows and we experience more extreme weather events as a result of climate change, the frequency of these discharges will only increase, unless action is taken.

What do we want?

We want to see an end to the practice of discharging raw sewage into UK rivers.

We want to be able to swim, paddle, fish and play in our rivers without risk of contracting hepatitis, e-coli,  gastroenteritis and other unpleasant diseases.

We want to give our native wildlife a chance to recover, and see our rivers full of life.

Now is the time to act.

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill will ensure real progress towards stopping raw sewage discharges into UK rivers and coastal waters. It will require water companies to progressively reduce discharges from CSOs, improve their capacity to monitor all discharging assets and report publicly on the number, condition and quality of sewage discharges.

The Bill will also require the Environment Agency to take further action towards improving water quality, investigating the impact of CSO discharges on water quality and working with water companies to reduce harmful discharges. 

A CSO in South London covered in sewage rag from a recent spill.

We need your help.

This is a Private Members’ Bill, which means that it has been introduced by an MP who is not a government minister. These Bills have less time allocated to them, and only a small minority are ever passed into law. But lots of publicity around this issue, and support from other MPs, will put pressure on the government to take action and make legislative changes.

This is where you come in. Please write to your MP and ask them to support this Bill – it could make a real difference

Here’s what to do.

1. Write to your MP to support the Bill

Use this great tool created by The Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage to write to your local MP. The tool provides a template letter with localised data on CSO discharges relevant to where you are!

Visit now:

You can read the full Bill here:

2. Ask your friends and family to do the same.

The more people who write to their MPs about this Bill, the more likely it will receive the attention it deserves. Use the graphics below to share the Bill on Facebook and Twitter, asking your friends and family to support it too.

For Twitter
For Facebook/Instagram

Have any Question or Comment?

5 comments on “An end to sewage in rivers?

Geoff Tombs

Dear SERT, it’s not all legal. Far from it. Much spilling is outside of permit rules and as such is illegal. Unfortunately the EA is constrained by budget and staff cuts and virtually powerless to investigate effectively and prosecute in a meaningful and positive way that deters ongoing offences. I spend most days logging potential offences and calling in where appropriate. Ultimately the power of campaign groups will achieve positive results. In the meantime react to the EAC TOR and weigh in with evidence to support the PMB.

Nigel Parker

I’ve written to my MP and would have shared it on Facebook with your graphic but I wasn’t clear how I could paste the graphic onto my FB post.

Also I think the instructions on copying to clipboard etc. could have been clearer. I managed it OK but I think people like a step by step guide.

Thanks for all your work for our rivers!

V de Boer

I fully support this campaign.
Use influence to stop effluent!

Jess Mead

Hi Nigel, If you right click on the image you can save it as a picture on your computer/phone and then upload it to social media as you would usually. Hope that helps.

David Barker

I think the only way to exert real pressure on these serial pollutants is through the ESG investment community. Companies like Thames Water go out brandishing wonderful , worthy ‘green’ credentials with high profile PR-orchestrated, eco-friendly initiatives whilst they quietly systematically dump raw sewage into areas of outstanding natural beauty like the River Chess because they have avoided the investment needed to counter the clearly foreseen population growth and climate change. Their shareholders and lenders need to know of their dirty secret.

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