New figures from the Environment Agency show South West Water spilled sewage into the sea for 530,737 hours this year.

The figures relate to England’s storm overflows, which dump untreated sewage into rivers and the sea, usually during heavy rainfall to stop sewers backing up and which are now all monitored by water companies.

The number of hours of sewage spills from monitored storm overflows for South West Wate was 530,737 hours in 2023; up from 290,271 hours in 2022.

The average duration of sewage spills from monitored storm overflows for South West Water: was 9.1 hours, up from 7.7 hours in 2022.

The total number of sewage spills from monitored storm overflows for South West Water was 58,249, up from 37,649 in 2022.

The average spills per monitored storm overflow was 43.4 up from 28.5 in 2022.

Exmouth Journal:

South West Water said: “We care about our 860m of coastline, our regions 100% bathing water quality, which we have successfully maintained for 3 consecutive years and protecting the environment now and in the future.

"We were one of the first water companies to have all our storm overflows monitored meaning we know exactly what is happening, when and where, allowing us to target investment and make changes where it matters most.

"We are serious about tackling storm overflows and change of this scale takes time, ambition, and increased investment – and that is why we are investing £850m in our region over 2 years.

"The increase in the storm overflow spills this year can be accounted for by the amount of named storms and weather warnings in 2023. It’s clear we need to redesign our systems, which we are already doing.

"We will also be the first water company to meet the Government target of less than 10 spills per overflow, per year – a decade ahead of target.”

Figures published by the Environment Agency show there were 464,056 spills in 2023, up 54% from 301,091 in 2022, which the organisation said was partly due to England experiencing its sixth-wettest year on record.

The company behind South West Water and Bristol Water has abandoned its ambition to reach a four-star environmental performance rating in 2024, blaming 'current operating conditions'. 

The latest data shows nationally, the duration of sewage spills had more than doubled from 1,754,921 hours hours in 2022, to 3,606,170 hours in 2023.

Both the frequency and duration of spills were also up on 2020 levels, which saw comparable amounts of rainfall, although the number of monitored storm overflows had also increased in that time.

Exmouth Journal:

United Utilities had the highest average number of sewage spills per storm overflow of any water company in England last year, at 45.4, followed by South West Water (43.4) and Yorkshire Water (35.9).

South West Water has become the focus of attention in East Devon over the past few years with environmental campaign group ESCAPE Exmouth being very vocal on the issue. 

Water companies say they are investing in tackling pollution from storm overflows and sewage infrastructure, but have faced criticism over profits, bonuses and the way the businesses are managed.

Beaches rated as excellent can be hit by pollution from storm overflows after bad weather, causing warnings against swimming to be issued on multiple occasions. This is the case in Exmouth where the beach is often classed as 'not safe to swim' after heavy rain.

Data also show none of England’s rivers are in good overall health and (23%) are classed as in poor or bad overall condition, according to an assessment based on the combination of their chemical pollution and “ecological” state, which measures the health of aquatic plants, fish and insects.

All English rivers are failing on chemical health and just 15% of stretches of waterway are in a good ecological state, according to a recent report from the Rivers Trust based on official data gathered in 2022.

Figures from the Environment Department (Defra) show that wastewater is responsible for 36% of pollution affecting rivers and lakes, while 40% is down to runoff of pesticides, fertilisers, slurry and soil from farming.