Report of sewage in Bedford’s rivers does not make for “pretty reading” says councillor

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The routine discharge of untreated sewage into rivers is “particularly bad” in Bedford, a councillor has said.

Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle and Newnham) told councillors at this week’s Full Council meeting (November 29) that the Surfers Against Sewage Water Report does not make for “pretty reading”.

“It’s incredibly detailed about England, Scotland and Wales and the state of our waterways,” she said.

Cllr Bywater added that a year ago she asked questions about the pollution going into the river “particularly related to Anglian Water”.

“I was really talking about the routine discharge of untreated sewage and the complete lack of monitoring. It’s not exceptional, it’s happening every single week,” she said.

“I’m so grateful for [Citizen Science] because they are filling the gap which Anglian Water should be doing. The Citizen Science is pretty high level and they’re finding out really terrible stuff about the Waterways in Bedford.

“Bedford is particularly bad, so anyone who uses the rivers or who cares about our rivers should be really taking an interest in this.”

The portfolio holder for environment, highways & transport, councillor Jim Weir (Conservative, Great Denham) said: “It may interest the council to know that myself and councillor Julie Cox [Conservative, Wyboston] are actually working with a local group of scientists who are taking samples of the river.

Cllr Lucy Bywater
Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle)

“Some of the information is not shared yet, but we’re putting together a group where we can share that information.”

Councillor Bywater asked if the mayor and councillor Weir (deputy mayor) would support the End Sewage Pollution manifesto.

“The five-point manifesto is to help make our rivers and waterways safe again by enforcing the law, number two stopping pollution for profit, number three prioritising high-risk pollution, number four empowering a nature-led approach, and five revealing the truth,” she said.

“Which is what the report does, because it really uncovers the facts of what is going into our rivers.”

Councillor Weir replied: “Yes, we do take on board any recommendations that will help us clean up the river. There are issues about grey water being dumped from boats that we seem to have the impression that it’s legal.

“But we’ve been informed by the environment agency that it’s not legal so that’s another avenue that we’ve got to go down,” he said.

Anglian Water told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) there were 150 hours (six days) worth of spills in 2022 in this area of Bedford – adding it will have 100 per cent Event Duration Monitoring coverage by the end of this month.

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “When it comes to storm overflows, we are very clear that one spill is one too many – by 2050, our aim is to consign them to history.

“We know how strongly our customers feel about storm overflows and we’ll continue to tackle reducing them.

“As part of our next business plan from 2025, £1bn of investment will go directly into tackling spills by creating new storage and ways to prevent surface water from entering the sewer network, installing additional monitoring and increasing the capacity of our treatment sites to deal with more rainfall as a result of unpredictable weather.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter