Thousands of sewage spills recorded across the North East

Water testing in the River Trent.
The data for 2023 shows a 54% increase in the number of sewage spills in the U.K. compared to 2022. Credit: PA IMAGES

A record number of sewage spills were recorded to have happened in the North East.

Raw sewage spills into England's waterways hit a record high in 2023, more than doubling on the previous year, according to the Environment Agency.

The data also showed a 54% increase compared to 2022, and a 13% increase compared to 2020.

The spills happen because the overflow drains for heavy rain are the same as the drains used for sewage, so when they are overwhelmed by rain they spill, and the sewage comes out with it.

The North East alone saw thousands of sewage spills last year:Howdon, a treatment works near South Shields along the River Tyne was recorded as having one of the most regular spills in the region - spilling 210 times for over 2,500 hours.

That was topped by Boldron works near Barnard Castle which saw 264 spills over 1,300 hours.

On Teesside, Graythorp works near Hartlepool recorded 153 spills over more than 2,000 hours.

Campaigners say the figures here and across the country are "completely unacceptable". Steven Crawford from Surfers Against Sewage said: "People come here to look at the sea, feel the openness and just being outdoors, and feeling if you go in it, you could threaten your health - it's just a horrible thing to feel."

Northumbrian Water said: “2023 was one of the wettest years since storm overflow data has been available, with rainfall for the North East around 35% above the amount recorded in 2022. Storm overflows are designed to spill when rainfall is heavy.

“As a result of this wet weather, the data for 2023 shows an increase in the operation of storm overflows to prevent customers’ homes and businesses from flooding. We share our customers’ passion for our region’s coastlines and rivers and have a clear plan of investment to reduce the reliance on the operation of storm overflows in future.

“We know that change is needed – which is why we are investing over £80m to reduce our use of storm overflows and to upgrade our wastewater network between 2020 and 2025.

“This will be followed by a further £1.7 billion from 2025 to 2030 in a massive environmental programme to stop storm overflow spills and help improve the environment.

“We are also currently trialling some brand-new innovative technology in order to reduce the reliance upon storm overflows across the region – including a real-time smart sewer network in Tyneside, the biggest and first of its kind in the world.

“Over the past 12 months, we have increased our Storm Overflow monitoring and now gather data from 100% of these assets, meaning we are able to use this to work towards improvements and also responding to alarms to prevent overflows from operating due to sewer blockages.

“The EDM results show that we have some of the lowest amount and durations of spills in the country. As well as this, we can also confirm that we did not have any serious pollution incidents throughout the whole of 2023. That is now two years in a row since we last had a serious pollution incident and we are industry leading against this performance measure.”

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