South West Water condemned for 83% increase in sewage spills

27 Mar 2024
Richard Foord standing next to a screen reading "The End Sewage Pollution Manifesto"

New figures released by the Environment Agency have shown that South West Water discharged sewage into local rivers and waterways for a staggering 530,737 hours last year, an 83% increase on 2022.

Devon’s Liberal Democrat MP Richard Foord has called the revelation ‘deeply shameful’ and called for the Government to finally act on the sewage scandal gripping local communities, by strengthening the powers available to regulators such as the Environment Agency.

Across East Devon, there are several of the most prolific discharge sites covered by South West Water. The worst local outlet was the storm overflow at Dulford, which discharged sewage into the River Weaver 258 times for a total of more than 5,212 hours.

Several other notable sites include the overflow at Salcombe Regis, which saw 223 spills lasting 4,827 hours, the sewage treatment works in Honiton, which experienced 148 spills into the River Otter for more than 1,061 hours, and the overflow in Kilmington, which discharged into the River Axe for 1,391 hours over 171 individual spills.

Richard Foord, MP for Tiverton & Honiton, has also demanded that the Government follow through on their promise to stop water firms “marking their own homework” and monitoring sewage spills in-house.  He has demanded a deadline by when the Government will mandate this data to be gathered by the Environment Agency.

The Liberal Democrats have been calling consistently for the Government to crack down on negligent water companies and introduce a ban on bonuses for water company bosses whose firms have pumped sewage into our precious rivers and onto our flagship beaches.

Conservative MPs have consistently voted against measures which would have helped to tackle this scourge much sooner.

Richard Foord MP said:

“It is a complete scandal that untreated raw sewage is being spilled into Devon’s rivers and onto our premier beaches on an almost industrial scale. This is harming our natural environment and risks making our waterways unsafe for people to enjoy.

“But it’s not just water companies who are at fault; Conservative MPs have voted time and time again to allow these polluting firms to get away with this environmental vandalism. Local people are rightly angry that the Conservatives have blocked tougher action to tackle this crisis.

“Our towns and villages are fed-up with pollution warnings at our beaches; fed-up of not knowing whether their local river is safe for their children or pets to swim in. We need to see real action, not more warm words and far-off promises.

"The situation we now face is a result of years of neglect, not just by water companies but also from Government ministers – who have repeatedly hollowed out our environmental regulators, leaving them unable to properly police the sector and hold failing firms to account.

“Liberal Democrats believe we need tougher action to stop sewage being dumped in local rivers and onto our beaches. This includes beefing up the Environmental Agency and stopping the perverse situation where water companies themselves report on sewage spills.

“We have also led the way in calling for an outright ban on bonuses for water company top executives whose firms have allowed spills from combined sewage overflows into our waterways. Liberal Democrats want to be certain that big shareholder payouts do not come at the expensive of vital investment in our ageing infrastructure.

“These new figures show just how bad things have become, and why we desperately need to see a gear-shift from Ministers, who seem oblivious to the real damage these sewage discharges are having on our rural and coastal communities.”

Sign up for email updates...

We will keep you up to date by email.

The Liberal Democrats may use the information you provide, including your political opinions, to further our objectives and share it with our elected representatives. Any data we gather will be used in accordance with our privacy policy: You can exercise your rights and withdraw your consent to future communications by contacting us: or: DPO, Lib Dems, 1 Vincent Square, SW1P 2PN.