More than 1,000 raw sewage overflows carried out across Buckinghamshire waterways last year
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Raw sewage was released into open water in Buckinghamshire more than 1,000 times in 2022, figures show.
Storm overflows normally happen when the sewage system is at risk of being overwhelmed – such as after a heavy rain.
In this case, water companies sometimes release wastewater into rivers and the sea, to prevent water backing up into streets and homes.
This has an impact on natural water sources, with some charities alleging storm overflows are being misused and under-reported.
Figures from the Environment Agency show storm overflows were used just over 1,100 times within Buckinghamshire's local authority boundaries in 2022, discharging for a total of 13,536 hours.
These figures may not provide a full picture of the amount of water pollution in the area – Buckinghamshire may also be impacted by overspills from areas it shares water sources with.
The Rivers Trust said it was particularly concerned by storm overflows being used during hot periods – a risk as England faces a heatwave this week.
The charity’s Tessa Wardley said: "Discharging untreated sewage in dry weather is bad for both human health and river health – lower river flows mean more concentrated pollutants at a time when more people want to enjoy their rivers.
"Although a problem in their own right, these discharges are also the ‘canary in the coalmine’ pointing to greater problems in our sewerage and river systems. This could be blockages in the system, groundwater seeping into broken pipes, misconnections, or just poor management choices.”
She urged ‘robust, urgent action on sewage and river management to help tackle the climate crisis and threats to biodiversity.
Thames Water saw just over 8,000 overspills across its network in 2022 – although 39 per cent of the company's facilities did not report overspill data last year.
Meanwhile, Anglian Water had 16,082 spills recorded at its sites, based on data from 40 per cent of the company's facilities that could provide figures.
In total there were more than 300,000 overspills across England in 2022 – a 19 per cent reduction on 2021 figures which may have been influenced by weather.
Water minister Rebecca Pow said the amount of sewage pumped into rivers is ‘utterly unacceptable’.
She said: "Targets set by the Government to reduce storm overflows are very strict and are leading to the largest infrastructure programme in water company history – £56 billion over the next 25 years.
She added that, soon, water companies will also need to publish action plans for every storm overflow in England.