Published: 05:00, 07 October 2021
| Updated: 15:45, 07 October 2021
The coastline has been blighted once again by a wave of waste water releases after the district was battered by heavy rain.
Campaigners have repeated their demands for Southern Water to take urgent action to tackle the pollution amid fresh fears sea swimmers are falling ill.
There have been more than 20 separate releases since Friday across the Canterbury district.
One from the Swalecliffe Wastewater Treatment Works lasted for more than 16 hours.
SOS Whitstable, which was launched two months ago to campaign against the pollution, has branded the number of releases as “endless”.
The group was set up by eleven members of local sea swimming group Bubbletit Bluetits.
One of the founding members, Sally Burtt-Jones, says the group “is getting fed up”.
“It was World Bluetit Day on October 1 and we had planned to have a huge get together in Whitstable for sunset and to swim together,” she said.
“A few people still met on the beach but we pretty much had to abandon our celebrations because of the releases.”
There have been at least five reports to SOS Whitstable of people falling sick after swimming in the sea.
Another founding member, Elane Heffernan, says she is “afraid” to go in the water.
“I have a disability and health condition, which makes swimming quite difficult, but I have been sick twice after swimming,” she said.
“One time at the beginning of August I didn’t realise there had been a release and for three days I had horrid symptoms. The second time was a couple of days after a release in September.
“It is really hard because I moved here to have a healthy lifestyle and swim in the sea but now cold showers are the only way I can get coldness circulating to help my health.”
It comes after Southern Water was slapped with a record £90 million fine in July after unleashing up to 21 billion litres of sewage into protected water between 2010 and 2015.
A public meeting was called in August at St John’s Centre, Swalecliffe, where Southern Water was grilled about releases from its treatment works.
Two directors said about £16 million would be spent to improve the site.
A spokesman for Southern Water said: “Across the country sewer systems were built connected to surface water drains in order to protect homes from flooding.
“In heavy or intense rain the Environment Agency permits waste water companies to release this rainfall in order to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding and ensure customers can use their toilets, showers and washing machines as normal.”
They said Southern Water’s Beachbuoy service alerts water users when there are releases and some 98% of its outfalls are now covered with sensors and telemetry.
“Public awareness of storm releases is growing and there are increasing calls for the highly regulated practice to end,” they added.
“We support these calls and have adopted a pioneering approach.
“While simply separating all sewers from surface drains would be a hugely expensive and disruptive process, we believe that a partnership approach is the best way forward.
“Regulation on sustainable drainage must be changed so rainwater separation is built into all new construction. Investment in natural capital such as enhanced and expanded wetlands will be key.”
SOS Whitstable will be holding a protest on Saturday, meeting at the lifeguard hut in Tankerton at 1pm.
Earlier this week, a council issued advice not to enter the sea at 14 beaches after an "unscreened waste water release" by Southern Water.