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‘It’s a complete scandal’: Sewage flowed into rare chalk stream for 1,600 hours last year

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Sewage flowed for more than 1,600 hours from a treatment works into a rare chalk stream last year, figures have revealed.Data from the Environment Agency has shown that wastewater from the works in Grimston spilled into the Gaywood River which rises near Derby Fen in West Norfolk before flowing into Lynn.The ‘spills’ came from storm overflows, which dump untreated sewage into rivers and the sea, usually during periods of heavy rainfall to stop sewers from backing up and flooding.

Toilet paper and excrement spewing from the sewer manhole in Grimston. Photo: Gaywood River Revival

The figures also revealed that Belaugh, a tiny village on the Norfolk Broads, was the location with the most sewage spills in the entire county.The shocking figures emerged in a huge release of data from the Environment Agency, which said there were a total of 3.6 million hours of spills compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022. Overall, Anglian Water, which is responsible for much of the region’s sewer network, had the biggest increase in spills of all England’s water companies.

Sewage flowing into rivers at Grimston has been a problem for a number of years. Picture: Gaywood River Revival

The data has led to calls from MPs and councillors for a national environmental emergency to be declared to help tackle the problem.Norfolk County Councillor Rob Colwell, who is also running as a Liberal Democrat to become North West Norfolk MP, said: “It is a complete scandal that filthy sewage is being pumped into our stunning Norfolk Broads and our county’s rivers and waterways.“There should be a national emergency declared.”Water companies are allowed to release sewage through storm overflows when the system is overwhelmed during heavy rain in order to help prevent flooding.

Grimston Water Recycling Centre, adjacent to Gaywood River. Picture: Gaywood River Revival

However, the issue has become a growing scandal across the country and has led to people demanding for the practice to be stopped. Figures from Defra show wastewater is the source of 36% of pollution affecting rivers and lakes, while 40% is from runoff of pesticides, fertilisers, slurry and soil from farming.Anglian Water has said it is “working hard” to drive down the number of spills and is investing £50m into a ‘spills taskforce’ to tackle the problem, while £113m has been invested to tackle spills in Norfolk alone, such as at Fakenham, Horning and Norwich. An Anglian Water spokeswoman has said they are “disappointed to see our spill numbers have increased” but added the exceptionally wet weather in late 2023 compared to a much drier year previously had contributed to the stark increase.She added: “We are confident that investments we’ve been making to reduce spills have moved the dial in the right direction and spills would have been considerably higher without it.” Water Minister Rebecca Pow said the volume of sewage being “discharged into our waters is unacceptable and we are taking action to make sure polluters are held to account”.But critics, which include campaigner Feargal Sharkey, believe not enough is being done by Defra and the Environment Agency to clamp down on water companies.Labour’s shadow environment secretary Steve Reed has urged the government to immediately ban bonuses for water companies found to be polluting waterways and has said his party would impose tougher measures on the firms.

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