SAS Report 2021

The Surfers Against Sewage Report was released in November 2021 - it's a comprehensive PDF document running to 31 pages that can be downloaded directly from the SAS website here.

Since we are only focusing on Poole Harbour, we are therefore only concerned with Wessex Water which has been helpful in providing data and has contested SAS' findings both in the 2021 report and its predecessor.

One area of concern that BeachPeople raised with Wessex Water on December 9th 2021 was the apparent doubling in number of discharges and notifications by Wessex Water over the last year as these images from the report highight:

BeachPeople queried the rise in both discharges and discharge notifications in this exchange with Dave Joned of Wessex Water (edited for brevity)

BeachPeople - As you probably know the SAS 2021 Water Quality Report has been published and there are a couple of areas I feel Wessex Water should be provided the opportunity to explain, so could you please let us know why the total number of discharges and notifications rose significantly during 2021 compared to 2019 and 2020?
Total discharges seem to have doubled based on fig 4, whereas several other water company's discharges have reduced - why is that?

Dave Jones, Wessex Water -We have had discussions with SAS in advance of the publication of their report on how they are using our data and we were disappointed that some of the data included remains misleading.  SAS produce their report based on the ‘notification alerts’ they receive from us. Unfortunately, this data can be misleading as the alerts do not always reflect storm overflow use and there can also be false alarms triggered by wildlife or mobile communication issues.

There is also a problem with data in the report when comparing total number of notifications:

We provide SAS with data for all beaches and many amenity waters; and we provide this data all year around, which other water companies don’t.  It means we are shown as having a high number of notifications and so skews company comparisons.  We’re effectively shown negatively and penalised in the report for being the most transparent in providing SAS with a comprehensive data set.

We worked with the Environment Agency to establish the overflows of most concern, and for how long they should be allowed to discharge before an alert is issued.  We have no visibility of how other companies have carried out this task, however.  If the methods are significantly different between companies, then again, comparisons are not valid.

In addition to the above, the number of assets fitted with Event Duration Monitoring is being increased in line with the goal of fitting all required assets by 2023.  As more EDM monitors come online each year, the total number of assets monitored and the number of discharges which occur will inevitably increase year on year until all assets are fitted, at which point variability is likely to be driven more by weather related factors.

As of Dec 17th BeachPeople is considering further investigation there vs. awaiting the results of the sampling which will start in very early January.

BeachPeople Sponsors' Area

BeachPeople Sponsors contribute towards the costs of the regular, year-round testing of the water in Whitley Lake (aka Kite Beach, Sandbanks) for the presence of E. Coli and Enterococci (indicators of the presence of fecal material in water and, therefore of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa).

Sponsors who are able to contribute over a certain amount gain free full club membership (bearing in mind that the club is adults only) as well as access to a private 'Sponsors' area on the site that contains the non-published data such as detailed sample results, email communications with third parties and the sewage project announcements & updates (the information does remain confidential within the project and is not for sharing outside of the Sponsors group).

If you would like to contribute towards the costs of testing the water at Whitley Lake for sewage pollution throughout 2022 here's a PayPal link to do just that, either as a one-off donation or monthly.

If you are interested in becoming a BeachPeople Sponsor please drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we can chat it through.

Map showing the location of Whitley Lake relative to the ebb tidal flow from the 20+ sewage outfalls in Holes Bay

Response from Wessex Water

Sent Novermber 3rd 2021 by Ruth Barden, Wessex Water and reproduced in full without amendment

Dear Phil,

Thanks for your email and I am pleased that you have found the site visits and information useful.


There has been increasing public awareness, media campaigns and Parliamentary interest in storm overflows in recent weeks and the options for improvement.  Wessex Water is actively engaged in this work, particularly to understand the impact of our assets from both an environmental and public health perspective, and to ensure that any investment in improvements is sustainable.


As you know, we are currently investigating the impact of our assets in Poole Harbour, understanding both nutrient and bacteriological contributions, and comparing these with other sources, to understand where future investment may be required to address this.  The findings of these investigations will inform our next Business Plan which will be submitted to Ofwat in summer 2023.  More information can be found here: 9797.pdf (


Any additional sampling and data collected is always very valuable in understanding the environmental condition of the Harbour and water quality.  We are working closely with BCP, the EA and other stakeholders to share water quality data where available to improve our collective knowledge and understand the actions which each organisation can take to enable improvements.


Wessex Water supports the aspiration for recreational users to apply for designated status of bathing waters where there is the demand and criteria are met.  There are already a number of designated sites within Poole Harbour, both as bathing waters or shellfish waters, and we work will all relevant parties to enable good communication and sharing of data to support these designations.


Storm overflows have always been part of the sewerage network in the UK because the majority of sewers carry both rainwater and foul sewage and they prevent properties from flooding following intense rainfall. We are now getting more intense rainfall storms due to climate change, so this means the frequency of overflow operations will increase.


There are only two possible approaches to eliminating overflows; separation to stop stormwater entering the combined sewer, or constructing large storage tanks, which would have significant carbon consequences, cost billions and would be hugely disruptive.


We need Government to change legislation so developers cannot connect surface water to combined sewers which is making the matter worse. There is also the need for water companies to be able to release rainwater only directly into a watercourse.


Ofwat, the economic regulator, needs to prioritise investment, which it tightly controls to keep bills down, so water companies can get on and help solve the problem.


Since 2000 Wessex Water has invested £181m to improve nearly 600 storm overflows across the region, with a further £150m set aside for improvements between 2020 and 2025.




Official Responses

Every now and then an organisation will send out an official or full response (rather than the more common emails that bounce to and fro to exchange detailed information) - the two main players in the pollution of Poole Harbour with untreated human sewage are Wessex Water and HMG.

Here are their most recent positions, sent around the time that the Sewage Bill was being bonced back and forth between the Houses of Commons & Lords.

Response from Sir Robert Syms MP

Response from Wessex Water

Separately but still of interest is the Envronment agency's explanation as to why they ceased sampling the water entirely during 2020

Environment Agency's Explanation Of Why They Stopped Sampling Water In Poole Harbour

Response from Sir Robert Syms MP

Received 28th October 2021 and reproduced in full without amendment

Dear Phil,      There has been much misunderstanding and controversy concerning the Environment Bill as it passes through Parliament.  To be clear: the Bill strengthens controls on sewage outfalls – not weakens it.  But had the amendment stopping all sewage outfalls been passed, it would have resulted in the dangerous discharge of sewage into our streets at times of high rainfall and would have landed customers with unsustainably high water bills.  The amendment proposed by a back bench hereditary Peer had just not been thought through.  The Government has now agreed a form of words that meets the objective that the Amendment was seeking but it worded in a more workable form.  I should stress that the legislative process of a complex Bill does mean the MPs vote on numerous occasions, not for or against sewage, but to find a form of words that make the Bill workable and successful in the objective of cleaning up our rivers and seashore.

The Environment Bill now imposes

  • a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impact, and report to Parliament on progress.
  • a requirement for government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and the costs and benefits of those actions. Both publications are required before 1 September 2022.
  • a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.
  • a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real time information on the operation of storm overflows.
  • a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
  • a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.
  • a power of direction for the government to direct water companies in relation to the actions in these Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans. We will not hesitate to use this power of direction if plans are not good enough.

In addition, between 2020 and 2025, water companies will invest £7.1bn on environmental improvements in England. Of this, £3.1 billion specifically will be invested in storm overflow improvements.

The age of our Victorian sewerage systems means that the complete elimination of discharges from storm overflows would be extremely difficult. This process would involve the complete separation of sewerage systems, leading to potentially significant disruption for homes, businesses and infrastructure across the country. Initial assessments suggest total elimination would cost anywhere from £150 billion to £600 billion. With such amounts, huge customer bill increases and trade-offs against other water industry priorities would be unavoidable.

Governments – as opposed to opposition parties – do need to take all these factors into account.

However, addressing storm overflows is only one part of the picture when it comes to improving water quality. The Environment Bill requires the Government to set and achieve at least one new target to drive progress when it comes to water. In the policy paper published in August 2020, the Government set out the objectives for targets currently under consideration. For water, these include reducing pollution from agriculture, wastewater, and abandoned metal mines, and reducing water demand.

Funding for the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme has almost doubled with an additional £17m over the next three years. The new annual budget will be £30m, up from £16.6m in 2020 / 21. This includes allocating £1.2 million to the Environment Agency to significantly increase the number of inspectors visiting farmers to reduce diffuse water pollution, with 50 additional full-time employees recruited for inspections. Taking a catchment wide approach to water management is vital in our more holistic approach to water management.

Over 3,000 hectares of new woodlands are set to be planted along England’s rivers and watercourses. Planting trees on and around riverbanks, or allowing them to grow naturally, can help to improve water quality by reducing the runoff of pollutants into rivers.

The Environment Bill is landmark legislation that will clean up our rivers and seashore and make a massive environmental difference to my constituents in Poole and I am proud of my Government’s record in pursuing these objectives.

Sir Robert Syms MP

Member of Parliament for Poole