Working on behalf of the Community

Sewage on Ryde Beaches

Letter sent to Southern Water 9th November 2022

Dear Southern Water,

I wish to make a formal complaint as a Ryde IW Councillor and as Mayor of Ryde on behalf of Ryde Town Council about the unprecedented discharge (128 hours) of sewage into the sea in Ryde.

Southern Water ‘dumps sewage 493 times in eight days at bathing beaches’ | Water | The Guardian

The Ryde beaches are a protected conservation area and sewage release to the level that has just happened will seriously damage the sea grass, sea horses and other marine life. It will affect the migration birds, Sandlings and Brent Geese that are feeding in this area at present. I wish to formally complain to the Environment agency and seeking these details from IW Council.

Please can you lodge my complaint, and please can I have a full explanation of this devastating action and details as how a claim can be made for compensation to make sure this area is cleaned up properly. The smell in the Town over the past two weeks of raw sewage is awful and many residents have spoken to me on how this is affecting their health.

This action not only is ruining our beaches, but it is also destroying nature, destroying Ryde’s economy (Tourism) and Southern Water has a legal, ethical, and moral responsibility to explain to Ryde Town Council and IW Council what it intends to do to compensate the Town and take action that this does not happen again. It is simply disgusting.

I would like to be copied into the top managers who you send this email. I have copied in Ian Boyd of Arc Consulting who has a special knowledge of this area so he can provide more information about the possible long-term damage to Ryde’s protected beaches and IW Council’s ecology officer. I am very worried about the damage to the sea grass.

Sponsor a seagrass seed pod | Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (hiwwt.org.uk)

Yours sincerely

Cllr Michael Lilley – Mayor of Ryde

Response from Southern Water on 11th November 2022

“The nation’s combined sewer overflows (CSOs) have been activated more frequently this month to avoid flooding because of the significant heavy rainfall and high volumes of surface water.   

This is how CSOs are designed to work. When there’s rainfall, our network has to cope with rainwater run-off from roads, roofs, driveways and hard surfaces. Storm overflows are there to help protect our homes, businesses and schools from flooding. They are effectively a pressure release valve, activated when the system’s capacity is exceeded to allow excess flows - typically made up of up to 95% rainwater - to enter rivers and the sea. This is permitted by the Environment Agency specifically to prevent flooding, and outfalls are located up to 5km out to sea to minimise any impact to bathing waters. 

Although this is meant to happen, we know that any untreated sewage going into our seas and rivers is not acceptable. Moving away from this nationwide system of storm overflows will take time but we are committed to making change happen. We’re investing £2 billion between 2020-25 to improve our performance over the next 3-years.  

What we’re doing 

The most efficient and environmentally beneficial way to reduce the use of storm overflows is to redirect or slow the flow of surface water which enters the sewer. We are working with partners including local authorities such as county councils, highway authorities, communities and developers to find smarter, more innovative ways of running our network and making it fit for the future. We are also working with our customers to shine a light on the actions that everyone can take to help such as installing water butts to recycle rainwater or reducing the amount of paved areas in gardens and driveways. 

Our Clean Rivers and Seas Task Force is piloting many of these innovative and collaborative ideas through our pathfinder projects. For example, we are working closely with the Isle of Wight community and council, the Environment Agency and sustainable drainage system specialists to reduce storm overflow use while simultaneously reducing the risk of surface water flooding.  

We also know how important it is to provide transparent and clear data around pollution incidents and we are leading the industry with how we share storm release data using Beachbuoy, our 24/7 365 near real time reporting service. This information is live on our website and shared directly with key stakeholders and bathing water users.  

We are working hard, investing heavily and taking real action to reduce the use of storm overflows to create healthier rivers and seas, and we know it will take time. Our clear improvement plan, supported by the passion and dedication from our Southern Water team, will make these vital changes happen and create a water system fit for the future. The positive effects will not all be felt immediately, but we will continue to monitor and be fully transparent, reporting regularly on progress”.

Request to have my Complaint registered formally and go through formal process – 14th November 2022 – My email complaints had to go onto a formal complaint form and submitted which I have done. See below:

I am writing as a resident, an elected Ryde Town Councillor for Ryde Appley and Elmfield, as Mayor of Ryde, and Vice-Chair of IW Council. My complaint is about the excessive discharge of water and sewage that is damaging Ryde beaches (my ward includes Ryde beaches). The smell and visible damage of raw sewage has recently during October and November noticeable and visible. My complaint makes reference to correspondence I have had with Laura Moran, Customer Services at Southern Water on Isle of Wight, where I originally wrote to her as Mayor of Ryde. She requested I fill out a formal complaint form as it seems a written email of complaint was not acceptable which I do challenge.

I wish to make a formal complaint as a Ryde IW Councillor and as Mayor of Ryde on behalf of Ryde Town Council about the unprecedented discharge (128 hours) of sewage into the sea in Ryde. Southern Water ‘dumps sewage 493 times in eight days at bathing beaches’ | Water | The Guardian

The Ryde beaches are a protected conservation area and sewage release to the level that has just happened will seriously damage the sea grass, sea horses and other marine life. It will affect the migration birds, Sandlings and Brent Geese that are feeding in this area at present.

Please can you lodge my complaint, and please can I have a full explanation of this devastating action and details as how a claim can be made for compensation to make sure this area is cleaned up properly. The smell in the Town over the past two weeks of raw sewage is awful and many residents have spoken to me on how this is affecting their health.

This action not only is ruining our beaches, but it is also destroying nature, destroying Ryde’s economy (Tourism) and Southern Water has a legal, ethical, and moral responsibility to explain to Ryde Town Council and IW Council what it intends to do to compensate the Town and take action that this does not happen again. It is simply disgusting.

In Laura’s original response she stated: ‘We (Southern Water) make discharges for one reason only, to protect homes, businesses, schools, public spaces and hospitals from flooding’ when Southern Water has been both fined and prosecuted for falsifying data on discharges and for illegally encouraging excessive discharges. I know this may seem harsh, but it is true.

The description of the Solent as already altered by diverse pollution and contamination is absolutely correct, but it’s important to unpick this a little.

The first point is that the Solent’s very serious overall nutrient burden is dominated by 2 sources, agricultural runoff is the first (and larger), and sewage discharge is the second. Together these 2 dwarf all other inputs, but they’re taken for granted as ‘background’ for the purposes of the Nutrient Neutrality scheme. In other words, there is no past or present sanction against these predominant sources of eutrophication. The monitoring and regulatory regime of OFWAT, AMP and EA have never been weaker than it is now, partly because of defunding; the ‘progressive reduction of impact’ decision of the government on August 26th essentially rendered the control of discharge unenforceable, precisely because it is set against the ‘as given’ historic and cumulative pollution of the Solent and therefore a baseline of generalised high impact, for which Southern Water is significantly responsible.

The second point is that the Solent does not function as one basin, where the water quality is the same throughout and the inputs have the same effects everywhere. It is instead a very complex set of estuaries with widely differing combinations of diffuse and point source inputs and similarly diverse receptors in terms of social, cultural and ecological impacts (beaches, tourism, intertidal and subtidal wildlife and habitats, everyday lives of coastal communities). So, the impact of a CSO may be very different in one place than another given that the other lists of contaminants and contaminators will be more or less significant. You can’t just use ‘what-a-boutery’ to equivalise sewage discharge effects, because they are so closely and specifically related to the location of the pipe and not the averaged-out character of the Solent as a whole.

Ryde seafront only has one major stream input and that’s the Monkton Brook. It has a short, flashy catchment that fills up fast and is prone to flooding. The land within its upstream catchment is mostly forestry and land taken out of agricultural production altogether because of development schemes. Beyond that, up to the downs, more land has been taken out of farming through large scale rewilding initiatives. So, there’s not much runoff from cultivation, and nutrient loading will be decreasing as farm management ceases or changes. This means that persistent CSO discharges directly into Ryde Sands Marine Protected Area are likely to be the most significant source of new contamination and eutrophication to the intertidal and shallow subtidal environment there. Even if solids have settled out (and the visual evidence from Sandown Bay under modest rain conditions is that this is most definitely not always the case), the continuous delivery of high levels of nitrate and phosphate directly into seagrass beds and onto intertidal sand flats, will produce cumulative impacts, such as algal mats forming, and overgrowth or cloaking of epiphytic algae colonising the surface of the seagrass leaves. And of course, there will be other impacts and effects on human activity. These include the walking, and swimming which has to be put into the context that the Ryde sands are residents and visitors’ main attraction area. It is a special area that is essential to the health and well-being of the Town.

Southern Water is a key stakeholder in the Town but there is little or no engagement when incidences of discharge happen and no dialogue with the local council to reassure residents the beaches are safe. In this instant, a National newspaper (the Guardian) to highlight the damage. This is unacceptable.

Cllr Michael Lilley – Councillor for Ryde Appley and Elmfield and Mayor of Ryde on behalf of Ryde residents.

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