UPDATE: Viking Bay, Stone Bay and the Broadstairs outfall pipe are confirmed releases. The rest are listed as ‘not genuine.’
Unverified wastewater releases have been flagged for a number of Thanet beaches on Southern Water’s beach buoy site.
The overflow releases, that may impact water quality, are flagged for West Bay, St Mildred’s Bay, Westbrook, Margate, Fulsam Rock, Walpole Bay, Stone Bay and Viking Bay. A release from the Broadstairs outfall pipe is also recorded but not yet verified.
Further along the coast a release has been confirmed at Herne Bay.
The releases are also listed by Surfers Against Sewage.
Storm overflow (combined sewer outfalls) releases occur due to the predominantly combined sewer system, where both wastewater and rain runoff enter the same network. During heavy downpours, rain overloads the system. To avoid homes, businesses, schools and roads flooding, excess water is released into the sea. Releases are around 95% rainwater but have not been fully screened.
The Environment Agency has also issued advice against swimming at Viking Bay for the fifth time in two months.
The Environment Agency makes daily pollution risk forecasts and will issue the warning against bathing in the sea when water quality is forecast to reduce. This can be based on factors such as heavy rainfall or strong winds.
Contamination can come from a range of sources including surface water outfall, run off from roofs, roads, driveways and pavements and other debris.
Rain, tide, wind, sunlight and seasonality can affect the levels of bacteria that get washed into the sea from livestock, sewage and urban drainage via rivers and streams and how they disperse.
Sewer water releases from two outfall pipes in Margate affected six Thanet beaches last month.
During 2021 combined sewer releases and failures at Southern Water pumping stations led to warnings to stay out of the water in June and October.
In June 2021 advice was issued against swimming at 11 Thanet beaches after a wastewater release from the Foreness pumping station. There were also numerous combined sewer outflows affecting water quality.
In October 2021 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.
Last November Kent Wildlife Trust volunteers were forced to cancel a wildlife survey after Southern Water waste releases into the coast at Margate and Fulsam Rock. Releases were made from both the short and long sea outfall pipes and pumped into the ocean off the coast of Margate following heavy rainfall.
In February this year more than 100 people attended a meeting in Ramsgate with guest speakers former punk band frontman turned environmentalist Feargal Sharkey and Green Party peer Jenny Jones to discuss the sewer discharge issues.
Southern Water says it is continuing work to reduce outfalls and has three schemes in Kent focused on slowing the flow of water entering the sewers during heavy rain. Additionally a number of schools across the region including several in Kent now have SUDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) to help with this.
Southern Water says it is investing £2bn between 2020 and 2025, with most investment going to improving wastewater assets and environmental performance.