Live sewage maps expose scale of pollution in England’s rivers occurring hundreds of times a day

The Rivers Trust found 384,568 sewage leaks occurred in England and Wales’ waterways last year and warned the crisis is “not an isolated problem”

The scale of pollution and raw sewage levels in England’s rivers have been revealed in live maps that show discharges occur hundreds of times a day.

Sewage was discharged into the nation’s rivers and seas for 1.75 million hours in 2022 – equivalent to 200 years, according to Environment Agency (EA) data.

The Rivers Trust has unveiled the state of the problem in a live sewage map which details where discharges are occurring in rivers - which occurs on a daily basis.

The charity has warned that it “isn’t an isolated problem” as the sewage dumps “affects urban city centre rivers and pristine chalk streams alike”.

Using sensors to detect releases at designated points in the sewer network which allow untreated sewage to overflow directly into the environment, the charity has crafted a live map to allow people to take a “deeper dive into the problem”.

But only 89% of known sewer overflows are monitored which means the number of sewage discharges in rivers could be much higher.

Live sewage maps expose UK rivers polluted hundreds of times a day. (Photo: Getty Images) Live sewage maps expose UK rivers polluted hundreds of times a day. (Photo: Getty Images)
Live sewage maps expose UK rivers polluted hundreds of times a day. (Photo: Getty Images)

Data from The Trust showed a total of 384,568 sewage leaks occurred in rivers and creeks across England and Wales, amounting to a duration of 2,348,439 hours last year.

In England, the North faced the biggest problem of sewage leaks with over 5,200 occurrences across the region in 2022.

Thames Water also launched a digital map in April providing real-time data on its discharges across the South East after growing public anger about the state of the country’s rivers.

The water company found that raw sewage is being discharged into more than 80 English waterways across the country.

In 2022, the EA found United Utilities released more wastewater into the North West than any other firm, totalling just over 425,000 hours worth, while South West Water came second with 290,000 hours of discharges, followed by Severn Trent Water at 250,000 hours.

Thames Water recorded the shortest total duration of spills last year at 75,000 hours, but this is likely due to it having the lowest proportion of overflows fitted with the EA’s duration monitors.

Last summer beachgoers at several of Britain’s top destinations were told to keep out of the sea due to the risk of exposure to unhealthy pathogens. It led to members of the public, campaigners and politicians calling for water companies to be held to account.

England and Wales are the only countries in the world to have a fully privatised water and sewage disposal system. Water companies have enjoyed regional monopolies since 1989, and faced repeated accusations of flouting regulations for profit.

Last week, Tory MPs shot down the Opposition’s Water Quality (Sewage Discharge) Bill brought forward by Labour which would have introduced legally binding targets and automatic fines for companies dumping sewage.

Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon accused the Conservatives of treating England’s waterways like “open sewers”. During a three-hour debate, the government argued Labour’s plans were unworkable and would result in extra charges for homeowners.

The Environment Secretary Therese Coffey then confirmed her own Storm Overflow Reduction Plan, launched in September last year, would become law.

The Storm Overflow Reduction Plan will ensure water companies improve all overflows discharging into or near bathing waters and nature sites by 2035, and all overflows countrywide by 2050.