Anger at sewer outfall release at Western Undercliff and monitoring app failure to update water quality details

Releases were made on Wednesday but the Beachbuoy app failed to update

A meeting with the incoming chief executive of Southern Water is being requested by Ramsgate SOS campaigners and County Councillor Karen Constantine after another combined sewer outfall release into Thanet waters on Wednesday (June 8) and a failure of the water firm’s Beachbuoy website to update information for some 24 to 36 hours.

The sewer release was made at Ramsgate’s Western Undercliff for a 20 minute period after a short but heavy burst of rain.

Downpours cause rainwater to enter the sewer system in addition to wastewater from homes and businesses. If it arrives at the pumping station too quickly for it to be treated it is stored in tanks but if these also fill up screened wastewater is released into the sea.

Inside the Margate Wastewater Pumping station

The Beachbuoy site is meant to give near realtime details about discharges into the sea but Southern Water say a technical issue caused this to fail.

Western Undercliff Photo Western Undercliff Group

A spokesperson said: “There was a release made via our Military Road storm overflow on 8 June after a significant amount of rainfall (8mm) was recorded in a small area in a very short period of time (30 minutes).

“Stormwater flow, made up of mainly rainwater, was released for a 20-minute period to prevent internal and external flooding to properties in the area. Unfortunately, a technical issue affecting the automated reporting system meant this was not updated to our Beachbuoy website until 24 hours later. We have investigated this, identified the cause, and fixed the issue.”

Alerts were also flagged up for Ramsgate main sands and Viking Bay

SOS campaigners including Karen Constantine (on right)

Cllr Karen Constantine said: “Not content with discharging raw sewerage into Thanet waters, Southern Water have accomplished something I didn’t think was possible. They have made a very bad situation much, much worse.

“How? By failing to update the lifebuoy app for more than 36 hours – possible longer. Also by failing to answer questions openly. As a result local swimmers and other beach and sea users have been exposed to swimming in faecal contaminated waters.”

Cllr Constantine says local community groups must now be issued with testing kits for isle waters.

Southern Water has bought 4 testing kits, costing around £50,000 each. Two of these have gone to Canterbury and Havant councils. The water firm says work is taking place to find the best way of using kits so the majority of Thanet beaches can be tested. Training on use and recording data is also needed.

The pledge to consider providing testing kits was made by outgoing Southern Water chief exec Ian McAulay at a public meeting in Ramsgate in April.

Lawrence Gosden Photo Southern Water

However, his role will now be taken over by Lawrence Gosden (pictured) with effect from July 1.

Lawrence returned to Southern Water in 2020 as Chief Operating Officer. He previously spent 12 years at Thames Water.

Cllr Constantine said: “I sincerely hope that the incoming Chief Executive Lawrence Gosden is on performance related pay with sizeable deductions each and every time Southern Water discharge into our seas.”

Public protest about wastewater discharges Photo Steven Collis

Wastewater releases shut a large number of the isle’s beaches in June and October last year. Those incidents prompted a number of public protest rallies.

Last June advice was issued against swimming at 11 Thanet beaches after a wastewater release from the Foreness pumping station. There had also been numerous combined sewer outflows affecting water quality.

In October warnings were issued for 14 beaches and bays and stayed in place for nine days at 13 sites and an extra two days at Joss Bay following a discharge from the Broadstairs pumping station.

Photo Rebecca Douglas

In September Southern Water agreed to commission a full drainage survey of Margate and the surrounding areas in order to improve resilience of Foreness Point pumping station. The survey, estimated to come at a cost of some £400,000, will record all of the water pathways that contribute surface water and rain water to the drainage system. It will also assess the amount of water which is added to the system during storm periods.

The aim is to reduce runoff reaching the treatment works and reduce the risk of emergency spills.

In November Southern Water said it was launching a task force with the aim to cut storm overflows by 80 per cent by 2030.

Photo Steven Collis

Last year an Environment Agency report concluded Southern Water requires improvement with pollution incidents “consistently unacceptable.”

The results came a week after Southern Water was sentenced to pay a record-breaking £90m fine after pleading guilty in court to 6971 unpermitted pollution discharges from 16 Wastewater treatment works and one sewer overflow between 2010-2015.

Southern Water work to cut ‘storm’ releases into Thanet’s coastline – but campaigners say more action is needed


  1. Southern Water have received £600,000.
    So they released vast volumes of untreated sewage onto one of our beaches.
    You really, really couldn’t make it up.

  2. Southern Water should be prevented from paying any shareholder dividends until this pollution ceases. If they don’t want to do this, hand it back to public ownership!

    • I think that all the major infrastructures such as water and energy supply, transport and so on should be in public ownership.

  3. how delightful – do they mention this in tourist information brochures ? . no wonder so many people go abroad nowadays , this place is like a third world country when you stop and think about it.

  4. How clean is the Mediterranean?

    I didn’t see any warning notices when I went to Ramsgate Main Sands to swim yesterday and today. Were there any?

    • The Mediterranean is a massive cesspool.
      Several large rivers run into it, having traversed large parts of north Africa, and eastern and northern Europe. Just think of all those big cities, discharging partly treated or untreated sewage, all ending up in the Med.

      • I shouldn’t think there are many people livlng near the Mediterranean who have even heard of Isle of Thanet News, let alone ever read it.

      • I don’t think the Mediterranean Sea can actually bring a legal action of any sort. Even if it could, in order to be successful,the contentious statement would have to be false.
        Try this:
        “SPAIN holidays are often equated to idyllic beaches at such popular tourist spots as the Costa del Sol – but a shocking new investigation has revealed raw sewage is being churned into the sea near where Britons spend their holiday” []

  5. Another 20,000 homes built across the island’s farmland will help, I’m sure. 20,000 more homes’ worth of sewage and waste water, and heavy rainfall running off concrete straight into drains instead of farmland soaking it up. Still, I’m sure the planners and builders have factored all this in…

  6. It’s cheaper for Southern Water to pay the fines rather than upgrade the infrastructure, someone close to it all once remarked to a local. Same for so many privatised utilities I imagine.

  7. Are these sewage releases anything to do with the black tankers constantly driving up Millmead Road heading presumably for the sewage building in Palm Bay?

    • No.
      They are to do with:
      A) global warming meaning there’s far more moisture evapourated from the oceans into the atmosphere, so when it rains it rains more heavily than used to be the case;
      B) there are many many more homes being served by a Victorian sewerage system;
      C) far too many people are paving or concreting over their front gardens to create car-parking space. When the rain falls on this space, instead of soaking in to the ground (and helping to recharge the aquifer) it runs straight into the street, down the drain, and helps to overwhelm the treatment works.

  8. There was no more than an hour of heavy rain in Ramsgate during the early afternoon of last Wednesday. It had not been raining during the morning.

    If Southern Water cannot cope with that then there needs to be a major re-think. Either upgrade the system in order to cope or stop concreting and asphalting green and brown land.

    • Almost half an inch of rain fell in less than half an hour. That’s what the system can’t cope with.
      It seems to me that very soon indeed, water companies will have to bite the bullet, dig up our roads (imagine the chaos) and put new, much bigger drains in, possibly separating foul water from “grey” water.

      • Apparently a lot of new sewers in this area are dug by hand by firms employing modern day navvies, it avoids all the disruption of ripping up roads and is apparently much cheaper once the cost of reinstatement is taken into account.

  9. Residents of Thanet really are thick. ‘Let’s protest and bang on about how unclean the sea water is, especially as we go into peak visitor season’. Clearly the ones with the issues are the ones on Universal Credit.

  10. The government of the time when the water supply and treatment was sold off knew of the problems in store. So we now pay for bonuses that are astronomical usually to those in charge and share holders. There is little left over for expensive re working of an out of date system. No matter what we are told by Southern Water it is always bull crap.
    I would never swimming this countries or any other countries seas or rivers. Most are polluted. Some rivers are virtually dead of life in parts by outfalls. South East Today showed that last week. Remember no one in authority cares.

  11. Bore off accuses us of being thick so I think he should do what his/ her name suggests and Bore Off!!

  12. Southern water should be stripped of it’s franchise. Enough is enough. Every time we get to bathing season they open the floodgates to allow pollution in the waters.
    This is not storm related what they tell us as in all those places where spilled sewage has been leaked into the sea within the last 48 hours there has been no storm along the area that serves the coast in this timeframe. Not even any substantial rain !! The lies and excuses continue every year. What are the Government doing about it? We demand to know.

    • There was a downpour. Nearly a centimetre of rain fell in just under half an hour. The rain ran off people’s driveways and patios, straight into the drains, and down to the pumping station. There the pumps where overwhelmed by the sudden sheer volume of water.
      So SW had two options: let raw sewage back up and spill into folks’ kitchens and downstairs toilets, or release some (partly treated) sewage into the sea.
      Which choice would you have made, if you were the duty manager at that time?
      Indeed SW need to replace Thanet’s Victorian sewerage system with one that will see us well into the next century. That will involve digging up all the roads in Thanet, ripping out all the old pipes, and installing new ones.
      I’ve no idea how that logistical nightmare will be handled.

  13. And so it continues.
    As TDC continue to grant planning permission for housing, increasing the amount of water making it’s way to the coast, I am very sceptical when Southern Water give assurances that they will cope with the extra housing, when they are quite clearly unable to safely manage the present outflow.
    We must not only hold Southern Water to account but TDC as well.
    Our coastline is our lifeline for a successful comerse.

    • This problem is bigger than Thanet, Councils need to get together and tackle this prbolem.

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