Scotland's shocking level of sewage overflows into rivers and seas is unacceptable – Scotsman comment

Scotland needs to work out how many times sewage overflows are used and come up with a plan to reduce the number

The revelation that sewage overflows pumped untreated wastewater into Scotland’s rivers and seas nearly 60,000 times over the past five years sounds bad enough. But the true figure could be ten times as high, according to Surfers Against Sewage, as just 161 out of 3,641 sewage overflows are actually monitored.

This demonstrates the existence of a disturbing and sizable problem, accompanied by an apparent lack of interest in solving it, given it is hard to fix anything until the scale of the damage is known. Scottish Water, the public body which runs the system in contrast to the private companies south of the Border, said it was installing 1,000 new monitors at discharge locations, which may sound impressive until it is realised that, in England, almost all are monitored.

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The Scottish Government has long smugly trumpeted the merits of our publicly owned water network – happily divorced from the need to make a profit, unlike its English counterparts – but this comforting image may have also protected Scottish Water from the same level of scrutiny.

According to figures presented to a court in July, water companies in England discharged raw sewage into rivers and seas on 301,000 occasions last year. So Surfers Against Sewage’s suggestion that Scottish Water may have done this, on average, about 120,000 times a year would indicate a proportionately greater problem, based on population size.

While there is no question that overflows need to be used at present – the alternative is sewage backing up into people’s homes – there should be a realisation at Scottish Water and in the Scottish Government that public attitudes to this problem have changed dramatically. It is no longer acceptable to simply dump sewage when antiquated sewers cannot cope because of the environmental damage this causes and the risk to bathers’ health.

With climate change bringing increased flooding to parts of Scotland, there is now a pressing need for proper recording and greater transparency about sewage overflows, coupled with action to enable a dramatic reduction in their use. Without significant progress, smug complacency about the merits of our nationalised water industry is decidedly misplaced.



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