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Raw sewage being released into the sea

A simple solution to stopping raw sewage pollution

Raw sewage was discharged into England’s waterways more than 400,000 times during 2020, according to latest Environment Agency figures. Foul drains that leak or overflow allow untreated effluent to enter storm drains, ultimately polluting our rivers and seas. This results in devastating damage to the environment and it is an issue that demands urgent attention. Fortunately, there is a cost-effective, long lasting, simple and sustainable solution to the problem, as Barry Turner, technical manager at Wrekin Products, explains.

Latest data from the Environment Agency reveals that waterway pollution is getting worse, with incidents of raw sewage discharge up by 27 per cent on the previous 12 months.

According to the statistics, ten water and sewerage companies allowed untreated human effluent to enter rivers and coastal waters for a total of more than 3.1 million hours last year. Furthermore, discharge incidents were up from 292,864 in 2019 to 403,171 in 2020 – an increase of 37 percent.

Environmentalists have warned that sewage-contaminated water has a disastrous impact, killing fish and other wildlife. It is also harmful to human health, potentially causing infections such as gastrointestinal illness and Weil’s disease.

Allowing our waterways to become polluted carries very heavy financial penalties – water companies have been taken to court by the Environment Agency and handed huge fines in recent years.

Sewage discharge monitoring

Nations have a legal obligation to ensure that sewage is treated before it is pumped into rivers and seas. Untreated human waste is only allowed to flow into waterways in exceptional circumstances, such as after unusually heavy rain.

Water companies must, by law, monitor sewage discharges and report them to the Environment Agency so it can see exactly what is going on and where improvements and investment are most needed.

England’s sewerage network has seen a 14-fold increase in monitoring during the past five years. And, over the next four years, water companies will carry out 800 investigations and 798 improvement schemes to storm overflows.

Greater monitoring of storm overflows during 2020 has, reports the Environment Agency, produced a better idea of the scale of the problem. Last year, the numbers of overflows being monitored increased by 46 per cent, from 8,276 to 12,092, with average spill numbers per water company down slightly, from 35 to 33.

Finding a solution to overflowing drains

One of the main reasons raw sewage is discharged into our waterways is overflowing manhole covers. Sadly, these incidents show only too starkly the catastrophic impact environmental pollution has on our waterways, our wildlife and our riverside communities.

There is, however, preventative action water utility companies can take to stop foul drains leaking and overflowing into storm drains in the first place. Wrekin Products’ Unite Evolution manhole covers provide the ideal solution to stopping foul drain leakage and overflow.

When it comes to conventional seal plates, they have to be factory-fitted, meaning the opportunity is lost if it’s not ordered with its respective manhole cover. However, if water companies already have Unite Evolution manhole covers in place, they can retrofit a seal plate after installation – a huge time and cost advantage as it avoids the need for a complete replacement programme.

Wrekin’s Unite Evolution seal plates are available as either WRc Leak Class 2 low leak, or WRc Leak Class 3 no leak configurations. Alternatively, utilities companies have the option of replacing their entire manhole cover network for Unite Evolution models if they don’t currently have them.

Ideally suited to the needs of the water utilities sector, the Unite Evolution range has been developed to include design features that combine to give the longest life, and therefore lowest whole life cost, of any D400 access cover on the market. 

It has also been created to be the most durable cover in its class by limiting cover flexing and therefore seating wear. Wrekin has also designed Unite Evolution to work sympathetically with bedding mortars, thereby reducing stresses on the frame foundation – identified as a major cause of manhole cover failure.

To further increase the covers’ life, resistance to wear has been enhanced by incorporating a large interface between covers and frame – another bonus for the water industry when looking for a sustainable solution.

The Unite Evolution cover also incorporates additional features to solve specific issues facing local authorities. Essentially four products in one, it is also the first manhole cover on the market that has a retrofittable ID badge. Most important of all for water companies, it offers the ability for seal plates to be fitted at a later date.

Tackling the problem

The Environment Agency has said it is working with the water utilities sector to make sure overflows are correctly controlled to stop the terrible damage raw sewage inflicts on the environment. Greater monitoring and better reporting of storm overflows, it says, are also integral to tackling the problem. Investment of £1.1 billion is already planned by the agency over the next four years, suggesting there is funding available to address serious infrastructure issues such as ineffective drain covers.