UK water sports call for clean-up as sewage crisis deepens

By Thomson Reuters Apr 30, 2024 | 3:26 AM

LONDON (Reuters) – British water sports groups have joined forces to call on the government to clean-up rivers and seas, blaming the country’s sewage crisis for causing illness and cancelling events.

Raw sewage has been dumped into rivers and seas more and more frequently in recent years by water companies, sparking anger in Britain, where voters blame a privatised system that prioritises profit over investment in infrastructure.

The pollution is making swimmers, rowers, sailors and other users of British waters ill, say seven national governing bodies of water-based sports, including the Angling Trust, British Rowing and Swim England.

“We are advocating for the restoration of our blue spaces for the enjoyment of all,” the Clean Water Sports Alliance said in a statement on Tuesday.

Last month, rowers in Britain’s University Boat Race who for nearly two hundred years have celebrated by jumping into the River Thames were warned not to expose themselves to water because of high levels of E.coli bacteria from sewage spills.

Thames Water, Britain’s biggest water utility, has become a focal point for clean-up campaigners, disgusted by its poor environmental record and its financial woes, where its high debts mean it could be nationalised.

The Clean Water Sports Alliance, which collectively represents 450,000 water users including paddle boarders, fishermen and triathletes, said events, training and activities were being cancelled due to unsafe waters.

It called on the government to make sure regulatory bodies were adequately funded to monitor and hold polluters to account, and for compulsory monitoring of all sewage outlets, with real-time data provided to groups on water quality.

Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs called sewage pollution “unacceptable” and said it was taking action to ban bonuses for water bosses when breaches occur and had plans to quadruple company inspections next year.

“One hundred percent of overflows are now being monitored and if water companies are found to breach their permits action will be taken,” Defra said.

Water UK which represents water companies has said it is aiming to cut the number of spills by 2030.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, editing by Ed Osmond)