A NUMBER of councillors from across Cornwall are calling for tougher action to be taken against sewage ‘dumping’ as new data reveals an 83 per cent increase in discharge hours.

Last month, the Environment Agency released their annual data on discharges from sewer overflows in 2023 – it revealed that the amount of raw sewage discharges almost doubled since last year, increasing from 290,271 hours to 530,737.

The number of discharges also increased from 37,649 in 2022 to 58,249 in 2023.

Since this data has been revealed, a number of councillors have expressed their thoughts, saying that “people in Cornwall are really sick of this, both figuratively and literally.”

In South East Cornwall, Seaton Beach was impacted by 228 discharges in 2023, an increase of 74 per cent from the previous year.

Marcus Kern, a regional representative for Surfers Against Sewage from Downderry, said: “This deluge pouring into our rivers and seas is the consequence of a broken system, where those in power have turned a blind eye to the water industry’s greed and incompetence.

“Not just here, but people all across the UK are being robbed of the opportunity to use the water safely because government and regulators are failing to take action to enforce the law and stop this tidal wave of pollution.”

The Liberal Democrat representative for South East Cornwall, Cllr Colin Martin, highlighted that the rivers and beaches of Cornwall are the regions ‘crown jewels’ of its tourist industry and that the sewage crisis could have a detrimental impact on this vital sector of the economy.

Cllr Martin said: “Privatisation has enriched shareholders but not given us the infrastructure we need, and now we're being asked to pay to clean up the mess they've made. Water companies should be converted to public benefit companies so they're forced to put people and planet ahead of profits.”

The MP for South East Cornwall has been contacted for a comment on the subject.

The Tamar River saw an increase of 39 per cent in discharges from 13 combined sewer overflows in Chilsworthy, Calstock, Gunnislake, Harrowbarrow and Metherell.

Calstock parish councillor Alastair Tinto has said that the “river is more polluted than ever.”

It was reported that the worst discharges in the parish were from the Metherell Waste Water Treatment Works which discharged more than 3,500 hours of sewage in 181 events. 

Andrew Brown, Calstock parish councillor for Harrowbarrow, added: “‘This is quite unacceptable. It is a 40 per cent increase on 2022. For the third year in a row Metherell has discharged over 25 per cent of the muck in the parish. Last year we called on SWW to do something but nothing has happened. It can’t be allowed to continue like this.”

A number of Liberal Democrat councillors have expressed that Cornwall’s Conservative MP’s have consistently voted against measures which could have helped tackle the crisis – the party is now calling for more action to be taken on water companies as well as replacing Ofwat with a firm regulator to help alleviate the crisis.

Liberal Democrat candidate and former St Ives MP, Andrew George, said: “Since the Conservatives created these privatised water companies over £74-billion has been paid out to top execs and shareholders. If even half of this were instead invested in treatment and attenuation infrastructure these problems would barely exist.

"We’d force water companies to become community benefit societies, more accountable to their communities, install a community environmental champion on their board, hit them with tough regulation and force them to clean up their act.”

Liberal Democrat candidate for North Cornwall, Ben Maguire, added: "The Conservative’s record in government quite literally stinks. Instead of blaming the weather, when will the government force South West Water to invest a portion of their huge profits to increase the capacity of their  antiquated water tanks.

“Cornwall’s tourism industry is now in grave danger and yet our local MP has voted against stronger regulations time and again.”

In response to the criticism, the MP for North Cornwall has said that the Lib Dems “talk a good game” however their plan could cause issues for local residents within across the region.

MP Scott Mann said: “Since 2023 was the sixth wettest year since Met Office records began, and 2022 was the eighth driest year on record, the discharges of overflows reflect this.   "The Lib Dems talk a good game on water quality, but their plan would allow raw sewage to back up in homes up and down the country and raise water bills for North Cornwall by thousands per household at a time when water bills are high already.   “It is due to this Conservative government and our landmark Environmental Act that there is now, for the first time ever, 100 per cent monitoring of storm outflows and a legal obligation on the water companies to clean up their act or face record fines.    “While our opposition sit and talk, we’re busy taking action and delivering for the people of Cornwall.”

Further down the region, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Truro and Falmouth, has highlighted how untreated sewage is only suppose to enter rivers and water ways in exceptional circumstances — “but it's clear from these figures that it is routine.”

Ruth Gripper said: “People in Cornwall are really sick of this, both figuratively and literally.”

“We need the Conservative government to get serious about tackling the issue. Our local MP has been advertising her great commitment to the oceans — and yet she's voted against tougher measures time and again.”

A Surfers Against Sewage picture of a sewage discharge at Newquay.

The MP for Falmouth and Truro has been contacted for a comment.

Giles Bristow, chief executive, Surfers Against Sewage, has highlighted the ‘shocking figures’, saying that it is a “generational scandal”.

Mr Bristow explained: “With such large figures being thrown about it can be easy to become numb to the reality of the situation.

“Today's shocking figures will only fuel our fire to make 2024 the year when the tide finally turns on the sewage scandal. A cresting wave of public anger, a general election and water companies setting out their investment plans make this year a now-or-never moment for the campaign to end sewage pollution, and we’re not going to let it pass.

“We’re calling everyone to join our national day of action on Saturday, May 18, where surfers, swimmers, anglers, and water lovers of all stripes will stand up in protest against the sewage polluters.”

In response, South West Water have announced that the company is going to be spending millions within the region to help tackle the issues associated with storm overflows, saying they are aware they “need to redesign their systems”.

A spokesperson from South West Water added: “We were one of the first water companies to have all our storm overflows monitored meaning we know exactly what is happening, when and where, allowing us to target investment and make changes where it matters most.

“We are serious about tackling storm overflows and change of this scale takes time, ambition, and increased investment — and that is why we are investing £850-million in our region over two years.

“The increase in the storm overflow spills this year can be accounted for by the amount of named storms and weather warnings in 2023. It’s clear we need to redesign our systems, which we are already doing.”