OVER the last year many of us have been appalled at the sight of raw sewage in the sea and the loss of shellfish from Poole Harbour following pollution of the water.
In October 2021 an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to release raw sewage into rivers was voted down by Conservative MPs.
Early in 2022, as vice chair of BCP Council’s overview and scrutiny board, I questioned senior staff from Wessex Water and the Environment Agency about the increasing number of storm overflows affecting the wider Dorset area and challenged them on where responsibilities lie for improving water quality.
There was shock at the revelation that EACH overflow within the system is permitted to discharge sewage ten times each year and with dozens in the Purbeck area this means the potential for hazards to human and animal health as well as fish stocks is considerable.
One overflow north of Corfe Castle has discharged 108 times over three years and another at Durlston has overflowed 126 times in two years since monitoring began.
As more homes are built, water runoff and waste from household use is allowed to connect to the sewers without the systems having capacity increased downstream.
Developers are encouraged to provide sustainable drainage systems onsite to deal with rainwater and runoff but there is no legal obligation to do so.
Improved legislation to force housebuilders to create ponds and waterways within developments rather than connecting to the mains systems has been requested by the Environment Agency but has yet to appear.
During the BCP scrutiny meeting we challenged Wessex Water over why they were not improving the sewage systems and water treatment plants. We were told Ofwat dictates the priorities for water companies and the priority has been in keeping water bills low rather than increasing investment in infrastructure.
I visited residents who had raw sewage come up through their floors on to their patios after heavy rain in July 2021.
These homes are inland on streets built in the 1950s but having been built before most of the homes further away from the sewage plant their street sewers were not capable of dealing with the levels of waer flowing into them.
These residents are calling for sewer capacity to be increased with underground storage tanks constructed along their length. This is not only costly but needs space.
Last month, a group of us tested the water in Poole Harbour for contamination with nitrates from sewage. On this occasion, levels were low but on the same day a discharge off the beach at Sandbanks was confirmed and on several dates in August beaches at West Lulworth and Swanage were marked as unsafe to swim by Surfers Against Sewage.
Liberal Democrats are calling for increased regulation of water firms and a 16 per cent tax on their £2.2 billion profits to be ringfenced to improve the quality of our rivers, lakes and coastal areas. We hope residents will join our campaign.
Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Mid Dorset and North Poole
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