A water company has hit back at claims it has dumped sewage illegally

Southern Water has been accused of being the “worst offending” water provider in the UK for alleged illegal “dry spills”.

According to the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), a “dry spill” is when sewage is discharged when there has been no rainfall.

In stormy weather, rain can overwhelm combined sewer and drainage systems which exist across Sussex.

In these circumstances, Southern Water said that it releases storm overflows “to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding”.

Southern Water has previously said that these discharges are heavily diluted, typically being 95 per cent rainwater.

But in a new report SAS said Southern Water could be guilty of illegal “dry spills”.

The report analysed sewage discharge alerts and meteorological data and SAS says it shows that discharges occurred at least 146 times when there was no rain recorded.

SAS said this is despite regulations stipulating that outflows should only happen during “unusually heavy rainfall”.

According to the campaign group’s research, Southern Water was responsible for four times as many “dry spills” as the next company, South West Water. 

Southern Water has hit back at the claims, saying that SAS refused to share the full report with it prior to publication.

It said so-called "dry spills" are permitted when pressurised ground water has squeezed into pipes and require overflows to prevent flooding, or when the water has taken longer to arrive due to the size and complexity of the area drained by the sewer and the network itself.

“Over the last year, the UK public has made clear their disgust at what’s happening to our rivers and seas, and yet water companies continue to pollute at will,” said Amy Slack, head of campaigns and policy at SAS.

“It is especially alarming to uncover evidence of potentially illegal activity by water companies in the form of ‘dry spills’, which are not permitted under current regulations.

“Shareholders and CEOs are unashamedly profiteering off pollution."

A spokesman for Southern Water told The Argus: “Storm releases, which go a long way to reduce the impact of the type of flooding we have seen recently, and which are permitted by the Environment Agency, reduced by nearly 50 per cent this year compared to last, in part due to a dry summer. 

“We’re investing £2 billion to improve environmental performance and further reduce their use, by increasing storage capacity and working with partners to reduce the rain run-off entering the system.”