Britain’s Waterways Polluted: Companies Say Upgrades Are ‘Not Cost Beneficial’

Britain’s Waterways Polluted: Companies Say Upgrades Are ‘Not Cost Beneficial’

Britain’s most beautiful landscapes and waterways are being contaminated by sewage spills due to water companies deeming network upgrades “not cost beneficial” in almost half the cases. This includes places like Cumbria, the Cotswolds, Cornwall, and Sussex, where massive sewage spills have negatively impacted both residents and the environment. Recently, it was revealed that millions of liters of raw sewage were illegally pumped into Lake Windermere in the Lake District due to a system fault, sparking outrage and highlighting the ongoing issue of sewage contamination.

The Numbers: Extensive Sewage Discharges

Data analysis by MailOnline shows that 280 discharge sites across England, nearly half of the 582 problem sites, were found to be non-cost beneficial for upgrades.

These sites discharged untreated sewage into rivers and seas for hundreds of hours last year, totaling almost 375,000 hours.

Additionally, decisions are pending on 1,467 storm overflows that also pumped raw sewage for extensive periods due to a lack of hydraulic capacity.

Although 50 sites had potential spill reduction schemes identified, past records show that many such schemes are later deemed non-cost beneficial.

Expert Opinion: Profit Over Public Good

Charles Watson, founder of River Action UK, criticized the water industry’s profit-driven operations. He stated that the underlying philosophy of water companies prioritizes financial gain over environmental protection.

Watson argued that the industry’s approach of ignoring upgrades unless they are financially beneficial is a significant factor in the ongoing Great British Sewage Scandal.

The only way to address the issue is by upgrading the sewer network, which includes expanding pipe capacity and improving treatment plants.

Water Companies’ Stance

A spokesperson for Water UK, representing British water companies, explained that firms follow Environment Agency guidance when performing cost-benefit analyses on handling storm overflows.

The guidance assigns monetary values to environmental impacts and other factors, but these values can be interpreted variably, affecting decisions on whether to carry out necessary works.

Public Health Concerns

Watson also expressed concerns about the health risks posed by polluted rivers and seas, especially with many families heading to beaches, rivers, and lakes during school breaks.

He warned that swimming in contaminated water could be dangerous, as shown by record volumes of sewage spills and high levels of E. coli found in popular recreational areas.

Watson urged the government to provide real-time guidance to protect public health.

Efforts to Reduce Spills

When a storm overflow discharges raw sewage more than 60 times in a year, an investigation is triggered to find and address the cause.

Currently, only 28 storm overflows in England are part of the government’s spill reduction scheme, with 272 other improvements made to address the overflows.

However, companies like Yorkshire Water have not engaged with the process for many sites, citing non-cost beneficial outcomes for necessary upgrades.

Regional Responses

Different water companies have varied responses to the issue:

  • Yorkshire Water: Plans to meet new requirements by 2050 and is investing £180 million by 2025.
  • United Utilities: Found no cost beneficial solution for any of its 58 major leaks caused by capacity issues.
  • Northumbrian Water: Deemed 94 storm overflows (96% of decisions) not cost beneficial to improve.
  • Wessex Water: Did not make improvements due to cost at 39 sites but has included 13 in the spill reduction scheme.
  • Anglian Water: Decided against upgrades at 15 sites, with ten sites added to the spill reduction scheme.
  • South West Water: Made improvements to 49 discharge points but faced recent public health issues in Devon due to a Cryptosporidium outbreak.

Future Investments and Government Oversight

Water companies plan to invest £10 billion to cut spills by 40% by 2030, more than twice the government’s target.

The Environment Agency is increasing inspections and implementing new uncapped civil penalties to hold companies accountable for pollution.

However, the public remains concerned about the industry’s prioritization of profit over environmental and public health.


The ongoing issue of sewage spills in Britain’s waterways highlights the tension between cost-benefit analyses and environmental protection.

With water companies focused on financial viability, the necessary upgrades to prevent pollution are often deemed too costly, leading to significant environmental and public health concerns.

It is imperative for the government and regulatory bodies to enforce stricter measures and ensure that protecting the environment and public health becomes the primary focus of water management policies

TDPel Media

This article was published on TDPel Media. Thanks for reading!

Share on Facebook «||» Share on Twitter «||» Share on Reddit «||» Share on LinkedIn

Advertisement: Download Vital Signs App (VS App)