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by Tessa Guthrie
27 March 2024
New figures show 10 per cent increase in sewage dumps in 2023

Figures from Scottish Water show an increase in sewage dumps in 2023 | Alamy

New figures show 10 per cent increase in sewage dumps in 2023

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has demanded change after new Scottish Water figures revealed a 10 per cent increase in the number of sewage dumps in 2023.

Figures published by Scottish Water show that in 2023, 21,660 discharges were logged, up from 19,676 incidents in 2022.

“It is disgusting to learn sewage is being dumped into our waterways 59 times a day,” Cole-Hamilton said.

“Even that figure is likely to be a significant underestimate because only a small fraction of sewer overflows are monitored. Scotland is way behind England where nearly every overflow is monitored.”

The figures showed that sewage was dumped for a total of 221,002 hours in 2023. Not only is sewage pollution harmful to people’s health, but it is also harmful to the environment and wildlife.

Sewage pollution encourages growth of algal blooms, which greatly impact the functionality of ecosystems. When large blooms of algae grow it limits the amount of light that plants get for photosynthesis, causing large die offs of plants and consequentially other species, such as fish and freshwater insects. Additionally, algal blooms cause a boom in low-oxygen thriving species, such as midges.

From April 1, Scottish Water charges will increase by 8.8 per cent due to increased need due to increased pressure on the systems, according to Scottish Water. 

"To make matters worse, while our rivers, lochs and coastlines are destroyed, customers are facing huge price rises from the government-owned water company and its executives are pocketing bumper bonuses,” Cole-Hamilton said.

According to Scottish Water, 87 per cent of Scotland’s bodies of water are in “good or better condition.”

To prevent sewers from being overwhelmed and sewage to be backed up in buildings, companies are allowed to dump sewage in rivers only in cases of emergency, which includes heavy rain or flooding.

In 2021, the government-owned water company released its Urban Waters Routemap, which aimed to improve water quality, increase monitoring and reporting to cover all waste water overflows that discharge into the ‘highest priority’ waters, significantly reduce sewer-related debris in the environment and reduce overflows from the public sewer system.

According to Scottish Water’s website: “The routemap we published in 2021 set out a crystal-clear commitment to invest further, monitor performance at more locations and strive to prevent pollution incidents before these happen. We are on track to deliver on those commitments.”

Scotland’s waste water treatment systems handle more than 1 billion litres of waste water every day and due to increase in volatile weather, their systems are experiencing more use.

Despite Scottish Water’s plans, their efforts did not lessen sewage dumps.

Cole-Hamilton said: “SNP and Green ministers must stop being spin doctors for these outdated sewage standards and get tough with the government-owned water company.”


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