Number of sewage overflows in Scottish seas 'likely to be in 100,000s'

SAS analysed data that found that untreated sewage has been released into Scottish rivers and seas at least 58,304 times over the last five years.

A new report from Surfers Against Sewage has highlighted a lack of reporting on sewage overflows by Scottish Water.

The group analysed data that found that untreated sewage has been released into Scottish rivers and seas at least 58,304 times over the last five years.

The report revealed that just 161 out of the 3,641 sewage overflows in Scotland were reported in the last five years, meaning that the figure is a gross underestimation of reality.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) believe that the true number of discharges are likely to be in the 100,000’s.

Under 4% of sewage overflows in Scotland are required to be reported on, a stark contrast to England and Wales where nearly 100% are monitored.

This leaves the Scottish public in the dark about the performance of the other 96% of overflows and the impact these are having on Scottish rivers and coastline.

SAS called the data reported by Scottish Water “patchy”, adding that the three sewage overflows previously reported on annually are now only required to be reported on during the bathing season due to the license agreement approved by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

They added that some overflows that were previously monitored now go entirely unreported and are labelled as having “no license requirement for reporting”.

SAS are now calling on the Scottish Government to direct Scottish Water to install event duration monitoring on all overflows and for that data to be freely and easily accessible to the public in real-time so the Scottish public can make informed decisions when entering the water.

Additionally, SAS want the Scottish Government to set progressive sewage reduction targets to end untreated discharges into bathing waters, popular water usage areas, and high priority nature sites by 2030.

Giles Bristow, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Yet again, our annual water quality report reveals the complacency and disregard of governments, water companies and regulators towards the health of rivers and coastlines in Scotland and across the UK – and by extension people’s health. How much do our blue spaces need to suffocate in sewage before those we elect to keep us safe and protect our environment wake up and smell the s***?

“We are seeing failure at every level – from governments and regulators failing to enforce the law, to water companies refusing to clean up their act – with the general public ending up the biggest loser every time. How many times can we say ‘enough is enough’? Our leaders need to prioritise transparency, ensure laws and regulations are properly enforced, and prevent water companies from continuing to pollute our blue spaces.”

Scottish Water said that hundreds of new monitors are to be installed at discharge locations and added that water quality is also impacted by other sources, such as run offs from roads.

A spokesperson said: “87% of water bodies in Scotland have been classified as good or better status for water quality by SEPA and our continued investment – £2.7bn in the past decade with an additional £500m to improve monitoring and infrastructure – will help meet even higher standards.

“As a public body, we are independently regulated and fully accountable to ministers.

“We remain on track to install 1,000 new monitors at discharge locations, with a further 1,200 monitors being placed elsewhere as we transform Scotland’s waste water system to cope better with climate change and growth.

“Sewer overflows happen to reduce the risk of flooding in homes and consist mainly of run-off from roads and roofs and grey water from household appliances, with less than 1% coming from waste water from toilets. Water quality can also be significantly impacted from other sources including agricultural run-off.”

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