Sewage spilled into River Frome from village overflows for 4,000 hours

RAW sewage was flushed into the River Frome for thousands of hours last year, the Environment Agency says.

The river, which flows through the area on its way to Bristol, suffered a total of 4,058 hours of spills from eight combined sewer overflows (CSOs), where rainwater and foul waste water from homes is washed into waterways, between Iron Acton and Winterbourne.

Most of the spills were in Frampton Cotterell, where Wessex Water, the company responsible for the area’s waste water disposal and treatment, started work on a £5 million project in April to alleviate the problem.

It is building three huge storage tanks to collect rainwater during heavy storms to keep it out of the overflows.

But campaigners say the works will not reduce spills from all of the area’s sewer overflows.

The Environment Agency released details of spills from CSOs at the end of March.

It showed that for the eight CSOs discharging into the Frome between Iron Acton and Winterbourne – at New Cog Mill, Church Road, Bridge Way, Clyde Road, Rectory Road, Nightingales Bridge, Sunny Acres Footbridge and Harcombe Farm – a total of 520 separate spills were recorded by monitoring equipment.

The total number of hours when discharges were recorded was 4,058 – equivalent to 169 days.

The most discharges were recorded at Sunny Acres Footbridge near Watley’s End, with 124 spills lasting a total of 1,155 hours, and Church Road in Frampton Cotterell, with 104 spills totalling 1,137 hours.

The Environment Agency said nationally, storm overflows rose by 54% compared with 2022, partly due to wet weather.

Sewage in waterways ‘unacceptable’ – minister

Water Minister Robbie Moore said sewage pollution in waters was “unacceptable”.

He said: “We demanded that 100% of overflows were monitored by the end of last year as part of our drive to improve transparency. The data shows water companies must go further and faster to tackle storm overflows and clean up our precious waterways.”

David Hanks of volunteer conservation group Frampton Cotterell Nature took a picture (above) of wet wipes and other foul sewer waste around the CSO at New Cog Mill, Iron Acton.

David said: “It is disgraceful that the amount of sewage entering our rivers has increased. 

“I feel very sad that the Frome in Frampton is no longer fit for children to play in, and that the poor water quality is damaging local biodiversity.” 

He said that, while Wessex Water was working to reduce overflows at three CSOs, the others did not have to meet government targets for reducing spills until as late as 2050 – the New Cog Mill outflow pictured has a deadline of 2045, another 21 years from now.

Bristol Avon Rivers Trust chief executive Simon Hunter said the figures did not provide the full detail needed to show the impact spills are having on the environment, as a concentrated discharge into a small stream would have a worse effect than more diluted sewage going into a large river.

The charity carries out its own volunteer monitoring project, RiverBlitz, where people collect samples to test for pollutants, every summer.

Sewer overflows are not only pollution source

Simon said: “An even greater concern for me is the treated “continuous discharge” from water recycling centres, which seems to have been missed in the discussion on water industry impacts.”

He said these were allowed but are not required by law to be safe for bathing, and continue to discharge even when river flow levels are low.

Wessex Water responds

Wessex Water, which is in charge of the region’s sewerage systems, said “exceptionally wet weather” was the main reason for the increase in discharges, which were “mostly rainwater to protect properties from flooding during the fourth wettest year since records began”.

A spokesperson said: “Licensed storm overflows automatically operated more frequently in 2023, releasing mostly rainwater to protect properties from flooding during the fourth wettest year since records began.

“Storm overflows are legal but outdated, which is why we’re investing £3 million a month to progressively improve them – with plans to more than double that investment if approved by our regulators.

“Locally, we’re investing more than £5 million in a trio of projects to separate and store rainwater at Frampton Cotterell. This will ease pressure on the combined sewer system and further protect the River Frome.”

The company says the Environment Agency “does not list storm overflows among the reasons for potential deterioration in water quality in the rural catchment”.

You can read the latest Frampton Nature column in May’s Frome Valley Voice

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