A woman who was left bedridden with a severe infection after swimming in the sea has blamed a water company for dumping sewage in the area.
Julia Walker, 43, headed to Shoreham beach, West Sussex, for a swim in September this year, but walked away from her morning dip with a bacterial and kidney infection.
The social worker from Shoreham, went to the doctor after experiencing pain in her kidneys so severe that she could not stand, leaving her bedridden and with a fear of swimming with her head under the water.
She claims that Southern Water, the water provider for Sussex, had dumped sewage in the area earlier in the day of her swim.
Julia Walker, 43, headed to Shoreham beach, West Sussex, for a swim in September this year, but walked away from her morning dip with a bacterial and kidney infection
‘I went on the Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) website after my swim and sure enough, there had been an outpouring that day,’ she said. ‘I know I should have checked before swimming but it was a summer’s day and there hadn’t been any stormy weather.
‘I felt really rotten, I was bedridden and my whole body was shaking.’
It took her two months to get back into the water, and she now only swims with her head above the water for ‘fear of becoming ill again.’
‘Southern Water are dumping huge amounts of sewage and it is impacting all of us,’ she said.
‘I think it is disgusting that they are allowed to do this and the longer they can get away with it the longer they will continue to do it.’
The social worker for Shoreham was left bedridden for a week after the ill-fated morning swim in September
She looked at the Safer Seas and Rivers Service, which tracks real-time combined sewage overflows and pollution risk forecasts, after she swam and saw there had been a discharge not long before she entered the water
The worst performing water firms in the UK
Southern Water, Northumbrian Water, South West Water, Thames Water and Yorkshire Water are ‘lagging behind expectations’ and water regulator Ofwat is ‘deeply concerned’ in its annual assessment.
Earlier this week, Ofwat said water firms are failing to invest as much as they promised to fix their networks.
In its report, Ofwat said there has been encouraging progress on leakage, now at its lowest level since privatisation. But the number of serious pollution incidents has increased and statistics showed that between 2020 and 2022, 14 companies underspent their budget on improving their water network.
In addition, eight companies underspent their budget for improving their wastewater network. Main areas of underspending included drought resilience, improvements to sewage treatment works, improvements to storm tank capacity and reducing spill frequency.
Affinity Water and Northumbrian Water spent just 47 per cent and 48 per cent of their water enhancement allowance respectively, and Yorkshire Water and South West Water spent just 20 per cent and 39 per cent of their wastewater enhancement allowance respectively.
It comes after campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) claimed water companies released raw sewage into UK rivers and seas almost 150 times during dry weather– despite being told to do so only when there is heavy rainfall. The ‘dry spills’ occurred at least 146 times when there was no rain recorded between October last year and September, SAS said.
Ofwat chief executive David Black said: ‘These companies need to address this unacceptable performance as a matter of urgency. We are requiring the worst performers, including Thames Water and Southern Water, to return around £120 million to customers.’
According to SAS, Southern Water is the worst offender in the UK for ‘dry spills’.
A dry spill is when sewage is discharged into the ocean when there has been no rain. Spills are intended to only occur when there are times of exceptional rainfall to help the sewage network cope, with releases at other times a potential breach of water firms’ permits.
In these circumstances, Southern Water says it releases storm overflows ‘to protect homes, schools and businesses from flooding’.
It comes as water regulator Ofwat named Southern Water as one of the worst performing firms across the country in failing to tackle sewage and ‘letting down’ customers.
The regulator has said that Southern Water, along with Northumbrian Water, South West Water, Thames Water and Yorkshire Water, is’ lagging behind expectations’.
Earlier this week, Ofwat that water firms are failing to invest as much as they promised to fix their networks. They had promised improvements including better sewage treatment and reducing spills into the environment.
Ofwat said that the firms now need to explain what has led to their poor performance and present a clear action plan to turn things around. The company named the firms in its annual assessment of operational performance and financial resilience.
It came after SAS claimed water companies had released raw sewage into UK rivers and seas almost 150 times during dry weather– despite being told to do so only when there is heavy rainfall.
The dry spills occurred at least 146 times when there was no rain recorded between October last year and September, SAS said.
Over the same period, SAS issued 9,216 sewage pollution alerts via its Safer Seas & Rivers Service, which covers more than 450 beach and river spots across the UK and is designed to help the public make informed decisions about where and when they swim, surf or paddle.
A quarter (2,053) were during the 2022 bathing season and 39 per cent of sickness cases reported to SAS correlated with the alerts, the group said.
Southern Water is one of the firms which has been ordered to return around £120 million to customers due to poor performance, alongside Thames Water, which has also been named as one of the worst performers of the group.
A spokesperson for Southern Water said: ‘We are transparent in sharing details of any storm releases entering the sea – made up of up to 95 per cent rainwater at times of increased pressure on our combined sewage network.’
‘We were sorry to hear that a member of the public became unwell after swimming in the sea.
‘Whilst Southern Water takes bathing water quality extremely seriously, we are only one custodian of our coastline. We work closely with a range of partners including local councils, highways departments and the agricultural sector to enhance and protect our beaches.’