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South West Water Consultation: A Decade of Failure and Lack of Accountability.

In April this year, when North Devon was being recognised internationally as the UK’s first ever World Surfing Reserve shocking new data was published that showed that South West Water (SWW) was responsible for discharging 42,484 sewage spills in 2021[1]. The average duration of each event was 8.3 hours.


The figures for 2021 for the whole area covered by SWW show a staggering 351,785 hours of sewage flowed into our beautiful surfing ecosystem across the south west in 2021 [2].


The Environment Agency (EA) has compared performance between water companies and found that SWW was given the lowest rating, one star. Performance fell from 2 stars the previous year. Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the EA, said the 1-star rating means “their performance was terrible across the board[3].


The Financial Times reported that “last year the Environment Agency hit South West Water with the lowest environmental rating of the nine large, privatised sewage and water companies in England and Wales. The regulator singled out the regional monopoly for poor performance, saying in 2020 it had been “consistently unacceptable” for the 10th year in a row [4].


Ofwat concluded that SWW was performing below its commitment level in five categories:

  • Customer satisfaction;

  • Number and duration of interruptions to water supply;

  • Water quality;

  • Pollution incidents;

  • Treatment works compliance.


Yet despite this, South West Water company has the highest household sewerage bill of all water companies[5].


Surfers Against Sewage - a Member of the Local Stewardship Council which guides the North Devon World Surfing Reserve - is leading the campaign to end the great sewage scandal affecting the North Devon World Surfing Reserve and coastlines around the UK. They say that “Water companies treat our blue spaces like an open sewer. And government and regulators turn a blind eye. We need to end sewage pollution now.”.[6]


In agreeing the new Environment Act in 2022 the Government says it now has the power to tackle the water companies and stop the sewage pouring into or coastline.

Surfers Against Sewage and other campaigners say that: “The water industry must surely be forced to act faster, with a greater urgency to tackle their woeful pollution record that is contributing to the destruction of our rivers and coastline.”

It is within this context that South West Water has announced a public consultation on its Draft Water Resources Management Plan 2025 – 2050.


Whilst we would have preferred urgency and action on these well-known issues rather than another ‘public consultation’, the North Devon World Surfing Reserve will submit a response by the deadline of May 9th.


To support action, we do call on the Government and our local MP to apply pressure and penalties NOW rather than wait more years. It is important to ensure water companies – including South West Water - act with the pace, scale and ambition required to restore our waters and end the sewage pollution crisis once and for all.


In May the North Devon World Surfing Reserve will also release our Local Stewardship Plan, which has been shaped by key local stakeholders on our Local Stewardship Council. This will outline our clear position on what water quality standards within a designated World Surfing Reserve in the UK must achieve, to protect the Surf ecosystem that supports the local ecology, community and economy.

https://www.northdevonsurfreserve.org/post/raw-sewage-discharged-into-uk-s-first-ever-world-surfing-reserve North Devon World Surfing Reserve

Core Team

[1] https://environment.data.gov.uk/portalstg/home/item.html?id=d456bf40b7a94530953a378e5d814d32 [2] https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2023-0029/CDP-2023-0029.pdf [3] https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2023-0029/CDP-2023-0029.pdf [4] https://www.ft.com/content/0c9f1644-1c7d-41d7-b3dd-02e2a9e3d2d1 [5] https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2023-0029/CDP-2023-0029.pdf [6] For more information: https://www.sas.org.uk/water-quality/

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