Southern Water has been in the headlines almost constantly in recent years with news of sewage spills into the sea.

It has left some customers wondering why they are paying bills if the company seemingly cannot safely dispose of their water safely.

So last week, The Argus went to investigate just what happens at a Southern Water treatment plant.

The building is nestled among hills with a roof made of grass so it has as little visual impact on the scenery as possible, while the stench you might imagine that plagues the surrounding area is actually non-existent.

Once inside, we’re met by assistant manager Daniel Rayner-Grey who is passionate about his work, as is everyone at Peacehaven, and is keen to get one thing straight.

“It’s people’s imagination that we are just discharging poo straight into the sea,” he tells us.

“We don’t want to put anything at all in the sea, but we will hold up our hands when we get it wrong.”

Sussex uses a combined sewer network, meaning that wastewater and rainwater use the same sewers to get to the treatment plant.

Usually, the pipes have the capacity to cope but in thunderstorms they can become overwhelmed.

It is at this point when roughly five per cent of the sewage network flows into the sea, at a mix of 95 per cent rainwater and five per cent wastewater.

“We are all about going after that last five per cent and solving the problem,” said head of waste water networks Alex Saunders.

The Argus: Daniel Rayner-GreDaniel Rayner-Gre (Image: The Argus)

“I want to be able to tell my children that’s what I did in my career.”

We put it to Alex that spills meant the sewers were not fit for purpose to which he said Southern Water is “always looking for ways to reduce” what it puts into the sea and welcome discussions on ways to cut spills.

Southern Water also highlighted its Beachbuoy app which documents recent spills from all of its outlets which it says gives people the information they need to decide whether they feel it is safe to swim in the sea.

Away from sea spills, The Argus wanted to find out just what goes in to making wastewater ready for drinking and we were given a tour of the Peacehaven works – the second-newest treatment facility on Southern Water’s network.

The size of the plant is phenomenal – which it has to be to deal with some 95 million litres of wastewater each day.

First, large objects are removed from the water using what is described to us as “a giant cheese grater” before the water moves onto the FOGG (fat, oil, grit and grease) plant, which is essentially a massive conveyer belt.

The Argus: Toys pulled from the water works next to a map of the networkToys pulled from the water works next to a map of the network (Image: The Argus)

Next is particle removal where smaller particles are either removed with chemicals or dissolved entirely, before the final stage where bacteria is removed using another range of chemicals.

It is now that water can be pumped back into the sea without risk of harm to wildlife or humans or sent to be treated with chemicals to become drinking water.

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During our treatment works tour, we asked for Southern Water’s response to Brighton missing out on the Blue Flag for sea water quality this year.

We were told this was due to a large number of seabirds in the water creating pollution, and this was reflected in sample figures provided by Southern Water.

And so while there might be issues that Southern Water needs to address, it seems the team at the Peacehaven plant are all pulling in the right direction with a shared goal of solving the issues.