4,000 hours of sewage spills into River Frome

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

The river, which flows between Downend and Frenchay on its way to the centre of Bristol, suffered a total of 4,058 hours of spills from eight combined sewer overflows (CSOs), where rainwater and waste water from homes is combined and washed into waterways, just upstream in Iron Acton, Frampton Cotterell and Winterbourne.

A total of 520 separate spills were recorded by monitoring equipment on the stretch of river.

Another 10 spills, for a total of 20.6 hours, were recorded at the Overndale Road CSO into the Lincombe Barn stream in Downend, while a single 45-minute spill was recorded at Sheppard Road in Oldbury Court, into another tributary of the Frome.

At Irving Close, off Bridge Road near Rodway Common, CSO spilled 59 times, for just under 47 hours, into a tributary of the Warmley Brook.

As the Environment Agency announced that nationally, storm overflows rose by 54% over the previous year, partly due to wet weather, 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.”

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.

He 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.

David Hanks of Frampton Cotterell Nature, a volunteer group which dedicated to conservation and the environment in the Frome Valley, 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.” 

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: “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.”