Calls for action as floods waste blights river

EFFORTS are being made to clean rubbish and sewage waste from the River Avon in Saltford following the recent flooding.

Volunteers have been clearing the riverbank, while Wessex Water and Bath & North East Somerset Council have said they will play their part to keep the river clean.

Saltford Parish Council wrote to B&NES after being contacted by residents concerned by the state of the river and its banks.

It said that as B&NES Council is the riparian owner of the riverbank, it is B&NES’s responsibility to tackle the litter, as well as the pollution caused by sunken boats.

The parish council wants B&NES, through its WaterSpace project, to look into measures used by other local authorities to solve problems resulting from “unhindered, unregulated use and abuse of rivers.”
It also asked B&NES to work with other organisations to improve the river’s safety and cleanliness.

After the Voice approached B&NES Council for comment, Councillor Tim Ball, cabinet member for planning and licencing, said: “We agree with Saltford Parish Council that the River Avon is an irreplaceable asset for the region.
“We are working closely with partners such as Wessex Water and the Environment Agency to improve water quality across the Bath and North East Somerset area.

“This includes being an active member of the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, which brings together organisations that have an impact on rivers to co-ordinate action such as reducing sediment run-off into the river and reducing the amount of rainwater that enters our drainage system, decreasing the likelihood that sewage overflow systems will be used.”

Councillor Bell added: “There has been a clear increase in the amount of litter on the riverside banks following the flooding in January.

“The WaterSpace volunteers, supported by B&NES and the Canal and Rivers Trust, are working hard to clear litter through the centre of Bath and are planning to address the areas further downstream from March.

“We would welcome engagement with parish and town councils along the whole of the river corridor to ensure we can improve this valuable asset for all residents.”

Meanwhile, Wessex Water said it would act after local angler Charles Halliday told the Voice he had found used sanitary towels and wet wipes strewn along the riverbank in Saltford.

When he phoned Wessex Water, he was told to contact the Environment Agency and that the waste was not the water company’s responsibility.

But a Wessex Water spokesperson has since told the Voice: “We’ve arranged for a team to help clear up the area, including collecting a large amount of plastic litter and other items from the river banks that are unrelated to the sewer network.”

Charles, a fishing coach with Fishwish, said: “Wessex claimed that no one else had logged a call with them. We seem to have become blind to litter and pollution. Report it to them and the Environment Agency using the what3words location so there can be no deliberate confusion about the exact locations.

“The clean-up above the surface is great news, but we must take equal interest in what lies beneath the surface too.”

The Wessex Water spokesperson added: “Lots of litter and debris will make its way to the river following wet weather, including from private sewerage systems and potentially the public sewerage network, if items have been improperly flushed down toilets.

“Storm overflows sometimes operate automatically during heavy rainfall, releasing mostly surface water into the river to protect homes from flooding, and we’re spending £3 million every month on schemes to reduce how often this happens.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson told the Voice it had been contacted by a number of local people about the sewage waste.

“The EA does have enforcement powers over the use of storm overflows and, where possible, will trace any sewage-related waste back to the outfall and take appropriate action.

“On this occasion, the extreme weather conditions in January and the length of time that has passed means there are multiple potential sources of this waste, including private sewage treatment works and septic tanks, that would make identification of the source practically impossible.”

The spokesperson added: “Storm overflows are a necessary part of the current sewerage network. They act as relief valves which prevent the system from overloading during high rainfall which would otherwise result in sewage flooding homes, roads and open spaces.

“Storm overflows are permitted to discharge during and following storm conditions because the waters they are discharging to will be full and fast flowing. This ensures that there is enough dilution to minimise the environmental impact.

“Despite this, we know that sewage pollution can still be devastating to human health, local biodiversity and our environment.

“Storm overflows must only be used under strict permitted conditions that control their environmental impact.

“Overflows should be screened to prevent solids and other sewage-related waste from entering the environment. If this does occur, it should be reported to the water company. Otherwise responsibility for the clear-up will lie with the landowner.”

Photo: Saltford Parish Council