Southern Water vows to cut pollution

Southern Water has vowed to clean up its act by agreeing to explore a series of measures to cut down on its dumping of raw sewage in the sea and rivers.

The company agreed to field pre-submitted questions from both the public and Adur & Worthing Councillors at a Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee  meeting on Thursday 27th January 2022.

JOSC is the committee of councillors established to question and scrutinise decisions made by the Councils' Leaders also known as Executive Members. It has no jurisdiction over planning or licensing decisions but regularly invites other public bodies to discuss issues that affect Adur and Worthing.

JOSC members agreed unanimously to a series of recommendations, including:

  • Increase spending in the region
  • Fix more misconnections of pipes
  • Increase the number of sensors in the sewer system
  • Reduce the number of storm overflows
  • Become more transparent
  • Work as part of a multi-agency to stop houseboats discharging waste into the River Adur

Councillors criticised the company's past pollution record, but while Southern Water admitted the number of incidents was too high, insisted there has been a 30 per cent reduction in the past year and bathing waters in Adur are rated 'excellent' while Worthing’s had risen from 'sufficient' to 'good'.

The company was fined a record £90 million last July after the company admitted 6,971 illegal spills from 17 sites in Hampshire, Kent and West Sussex between 2010 and 2015 and told councillors its record in dumping raw sewage in the sea and rivers is 'unacceptable'.

Barry Woodham, the company's Bathing Water Manager, told councillors:

"It is unacceptable but we have to focus on where we are going now and 2040 is the zero target and we’ve got some pretty aggressive targets to hit.

“In this investment period we were north of 400 category 1 to 3 pollutions a year, our target is to get that below 80 by 2025. We do have a large task ahead of us as we've got 40,000km of sewer, 3,500 pumping stations and 360 treatment works. The scale of the challenge is large but we accept no pollution is acceptable and zero is the target. We have a lot of work to do. Performance at pumping stations is not good enough.”

There have also been reported incidents of street flooding at places such as the former  civic centre on the Brighton Road, in Shoreham. The company was asked whether the existing sewer infrastructure could cope with an expected 2,500 new residents expected to move into the town, as a result of new housing developments. Southern Water said it is fixing misconnections - when a wastewater pipe is incorrectly connected to surface water sewers - and assessing the situation to see what additional capacity is needed.

Reflecting serious public concerns, councillors also demanded to know what work was being done to improve pollution caused by storm overflows to which Southern Water said it is targeting reducing the number of them by 80 per cent by 2030 in favour of using more nature-based approaches. 

In addition, Southern Water vowed to invest around £3.8bn to improve the situation across their whole region of operation with around £140 million spent in the Adur and Worthing area in a bid to cut the prospect of further incidents. The company has also declared it will be much more transparent with figures available on its own website.

In response to minimising future incidents, the company said it will increase its use of technology with a Network Digitalisation that includes 20,000 to 30,000 sewer sensors that are connected to a control centre to give much greater visibility of issues before they cause problems for residents, as well as improving operational response and also appealed for the public to report any incidents of pollution as soon as they spot it.

Southern Water also agreed to again look into connecting the 44 houseboats in Shoreham to a main sewer as part of a joint agency approach with the Council and the Environment Agency to stop discharge into the River Adur.

Councillors also questioned them over sewage leaks in Lancing back in December 2021. While compensation had been paid to some residents affected, the company agreed to look into further compensation claims from those who live on the west side of West Way who had to travel through waste water and those on Brighton Road who suffered disruption from  tankers causing damage to roads and kerbs.

In a joint statement, JOSC chair and representative for Adur District Council, Cllr Joss Loader and JOSC chair and representative for Worthing Borough Council, Charles James, said:

“This was a positive and productive meeting, with councillors agreeing a series of proactive recommendations to help address ongoing and significant public concerns relating to bathing water quality and other environmental issues. Our thanks to Southern Water for attending."

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