With pollution warnings still in place at 60 bathing spots around the coast on Thursday after sewage was pumped into the sea following heavy storms, swimmers are being urged to stay out of the water.

Holidaymakers face threat of more sewage being dumped on UK beaches during summer holidays

People seek shelter on the seafront in Seaford during heavy rain – one of a number of places where sewage is reported to have been discharged. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

By Dean Kirby, Alannah Francis

Holidaymakers are facing the threat of even more sewage being dumped on UK beaches during the final two weeks of the summer holidays as campaigners claim water firms are committing environmental vandalism on a huge scale.

With pollution warnings still in place at 60 bathing spots around the coast on Thursday after sewage was pumped into the sea following heavy storms, swimmers are being urged to stay out of the water.

Met Office forecasters have warned more bad weather could be on the way with a risk of thunderstorms next week before it turns dry again before the school holidays end in September.

It comes as research suggests the average water company boss’s total pay rose by 20 per cent in the past year amid the “national scandal” of sewer systems being unable to cope on an island where it rains 148 days a year.

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats found that 22 water company executives were paid £24.8m, including a £14.7m in bonuses, benefits and incentives in 2021/22.

Campaigners say a long-awaited Government sewage action plan has been shelved as they called for “dramatic” action from regulators to stop millions of hours of sewage polluting rivers and coastlines each year.

An area of coastland next to where raw sewage had been reportedly discharged after heavy rain in Seaford (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

Hugo Tagholm, the chief executive of campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, said: “The sewage scandal has been growing by the day and water companies need to put the health of people and the planet before the health of their shareholders.

“Our rivers and beaches should not be subject to environmental vandalism of this scale.”

He added: “Overnight, England’s water companies have flipped from being unable to cope with too little water to being unable to cope with too much water. It seems they are only geared up to cope with mild, drizzly days.

“But climate change will continue to drive these extremes of very dry periods and monsoon-like rains. What is their plan to protect supplies and prevent sewage pollution from worsening in the coming decade?

“They must surely now use their vast profits to future-proof the sewage system. They’ve had a free ride on the ‘profiteering express’ for 30 years now and it’s about time they pay the full fare to protect people and the planet.”

In 2021, more than 32,000 sewage releases happened in bathing waters in England and Wales from so-called “storm overflows”, which are part of older sewers and are designed to send excess wastewater into rivers and seas during heavy rain to protect homes from being flooded.

Research by i found that sensor failures were recorded in more than 600 spills where bathing water was affected last year, with power faults, communications failures and design issues also recorded in hundreds of other spillages.

Cat Moncrieff, head of water and land stewardship at the South East Rivers Trust, said: “The drains doesn’t just overflow in heavy rainfall. We’ve seen them overflow in lots of places where there hasn’t been much rain.

“There are underlying issues such as a general lack of capacity in the sewer system, and blockages caused by wet wipes and oils and fats and grease. We’ve also seen places where the sewer system is very old and cracks in it.”

The Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson Tim Farron said water companies were “putting profit over the environment”. He said: “This is a national scandal. These disgusting polluting habits have made beaches unsafe in the middle of the summer holidays and harmed precious British wildlife. Frankly, the whole thing stinks.”

In a report published in July, the Environment Agency said water company bosses should face jail for the worst pollution incidents, describing the sector’s performance in 2021 as the “worst we have seen for years”.

The agency this week said that the risk of surface water floods caused by sudden heavy rain “reinforces the need for robust action from water companies to reduce discharges from storm overflows”.

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