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Southern Water sewage overflow releases on Sheppey beaches labelled ‘total disgrace’

Sewage overflow released onto beaches across the Island has been labelled a “total disgrace” by those living near the coast.

Heavy rain caused by Storm Betty put “extra pressure” on sewer networks across Sheppey which resulted in human waste being washed into the sea at Sheerness, Warden, Minster and Leysdown.

The Sheerness Blue Flag beach on the Isle of Sheppey
The Sheerness Blue Flag beach on the Isle of Sheppey

The Met Office issued a thunderstorm warning on Friday and predicted more than half a month’s rain could fall within hours.

A Southern Water spokesman said: “The heavy rainfall put extra pressure on our sewer network due to large volumes of surface water enter the system at one time.

“To stop homes, schools and businesses from flooding, our nation’s network of storm overflows act as a release value to temporarily relieve this pressure, allowing excess flows - typically made up of up to 95% rainwater - to enter rivers and the sea. This is permitted by the Environment Agency. ”

Sheerness and Leysdown beaches saw overflow releases between 1am and 3.45am on Saturday, August 19.

Minster Leas beach also saw an overflow release. However, according to Southern Water this had no effect on the water.

Sewage releases across Sheppey. Southern Water Beachbouy
Sewage releases across Sheppey. Southern Water Beachbouy

Anna Aldous, from Minster, said: “Southern Water’s Beachbouy website showed sewage releases from every overflow around Sheppey and the north coast after two hours of rain on Friday.

“Tourists and swimmers had no warnings, it is a total disgrace. Southern Water is ruining our beautiful beaches and nothing is done, it’s shameful.”

Southern Water’s spokesman explained that the company does warn swimmers if there is storm overflow releases through its Beachbouy website, which provides near real-time information about storm overflows.

They said: “To be transparent in our use of storm overflows we use our Beachbuoy system to display near real-time storm release activity in our coastal bathing areas. Beachbuoy does not provide any safety or water quality recommendations.

“Although storm overflows are a fundamental design function of our network, we’re committed to reducing the use of them.

A Blue Flag will not be flying over Minster Leas
A Blue Flag will not be flying over Minster Leas

“We’re investing £3 billion (around £1,500 per household) to increase our wastewater treatment and storage capacity, and introduce nature-based solutions to divert rainwater away from the sewer system and back into the environment.”

But Cllr Mike Whiting, who represents Queenborough and Halfway on Swale council, feels Southern Water needs to take “responsibility” for the releases.

He said: “These types of discharges are unacceptable and we want Southern Water to sort these issues out which seem to be happening all the time at the moment.

“If not them then the government need to make legislation changes to sort this issue out.

“The Island’s beaches are tourist destinations which need to be protected.”

Cllr Mike Whiting has called the releases “unacceptable”.
Cllr Mike Whiting has called the releases “unacceptable”.

Beaches in Whitstable, Broadstairs and Folkestone also saw overflows the same day.

No warnings were put out for swimmers by councils or Southern Water.

This comes after pollution risk warnings were issued across the Kent coastline after sewage was discharged onto more than 10 beaches.

A Swale council spokesman said: “We are signed up to Southern Water’s Beachbuoy alert system, and get notifications about water quality from the Environment Agency.

"If there is an incident, we have signs in place at the bathing beaches to alert the public.

Beaches in Thanet, Whitstable and the Isle of Sheppey have been awarded with a Blue Flag status
Beaches in Thanet, Whitstable and the Isle of Sheppey have been awarded with a Blue Flag status

“Alerts were issued on Friday and Saturday, August 18 and 19, but the alerts indicated that none of the outfalls were located in the vicinity of Sheppey’s bathing beaches and therefore did not require any action from us.

“We have previously met with Southern Water about the much-publicised ongoing issues they have had with the sewage releases and the impacts they have on our bathing beaches and continue to be happy to work with them.

According to Surfers Against Sewage, one of the UK’s marine conservation and campaigning charities, swimmers should avoid beaches after the recent weather meant sewage overflow ended up in the sea.

The charity says swimming in these areas could lead to people becoming sick due to bacteria and viruses in the water.

Surfers Against Sewage use data from Southern Water's Beachbouy website.

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