Ever since the cold snap early December, I am sure we have all recognised how mild the weather has been and how much rain has come down. Indeed almost a normal month’s rainfall came down in the second half of December, and with this comes sustained pressure on our sewage systems. When the system becomes overfull with rain run off, the tanks which normally store rainwater, alongside other waste, may have to discharge into our rivers and oceans to prevent this dirty water backing up into our houses and gardens.
The situation with our sewage system has been the same for generations. Indeed anyone who has grown up by the sea or a river knows that whenever it rains heavily there is significant run off from roads, fields and so forth, which can cause the water to discolour. The advice has been, and remains, to avoid swimming in open water when run off is clearly entering the water, until a full tidal rotation has cleared it through.
South West Water have invested significantly in our region, resulting in all south west beaches achieving good or better bathing status for the first time in 2022, and Croyde’s water quality moving from “good” to “excellent” – here storm discharges have halved in the past twelve months. Water quality is only tested between March and September each year, so any suggestion that water quality is impacted by any particular storm overflow is simply that, a suggestion. Without testing, water quality is unknown.
Whilst we all wish to see further reductions in discharges into our waterways, and this Government is the first to legislate that this must happen through its landmark Environment Act, there are still extremes of weather (becoming more extreme with climate change) that will overrun the system, and indeed is what the emergency discharge system was designed for.
A Conservative laid motion at North Devon Council, was passed, cross party “That this Council writes to South West Water to ensure they prioritise urgent action and investment to prevent avoidable discharges in North Devon that relies heavily on tourism. That we, North Devon Council recognise that as part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, we have a responsibility to work positively and proactively with South West Water, the Environment Agency and other partners, to provide cleaner and healthier waters for our residents and visitors.” Our water quality is integrated with our vital tourism businesses and stunning environmental designations.
I commit as MP for North Devon to continue this work with South West Water to ensure that further steps are taken to reduce discharges into our rivers and into the ocean. However, I will not damage their business, or any of our tourism businesses reliant on water quality through misrepresentations of the data and I hope other political parties will work to the same goals as agreed at North Devon Council earlier this year.