Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 17, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home NewsLocal News Exeter students raise concerns over South West Water pollution  

Exeter students raise concerns over South West Water pollution  

Print Editor-in-Chief, Anabel Costa-Ferriera, reports on concerns raised by Exeter University Open Swim Society on pollution from South West Water.
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Image provided by Grace Gurr

Following intense criticism at the end of 2023, South West Water are once again being questioned over sewage pollution issues. Concerns across the Devon coast have arisen consistently across the news as South West Water continues to perform “significantly below target for pollution incidents for the twelfth year running.” Accusations made against the utility company range from burst pipes to alleged illegal spills and sewage-associated illnesses.

At a university so close to the sea, this is not only a feature that draws many students to apply but is also an important part of many individuals’ weekly routines. Exeter University Open Water Swimming Society (EUOWSS) has been incredibly impacted by these incidents, being forced to cancel several weekly swims due to poor water quality. Typically, weekly swims are held at Dawlish Warren, yet due to the sewage issues this location has frequently been changed and they’ve been unable to swim there no more than five times this entire academic year. 

EUOWSS President Indra Sellars stated that “open water swimming is really beneficial for mental health” and the weekly nature of the event “encourages people to make friends with like-minded students.” EUOWSS continued that “obviously swimming in the sea is free which makes it accessible to most people” and that following the “sewage dumping, we can’t swim and there’s not really any replacement.”

Speaking to committee members, they detailed further concerns surrounding the impact this is having on students who use this activity as a way to cope with stress. EUOWSS President Indra Sellars stated that “open water swimming is really beneficial for mental health” and the weekly nature of the event “encourages people to make friends with like-minded students.” EUOWSS continued that “obviously swimming in the sea is free which makes it accessible to most people” and that following the “sewage dumping, we can’t swim and there’s not really any replacement.” Committee members shared with Exeposé that several students “depend on open water swimming to destress and a safe space to be after a stressful university week.” Therefore, any societies that rely on the closeness of the sea are left in both an impossible and incredibly frustrating situation. 

The Guild echoed the importance of wellbeing opportunities, sharing that “our Give it a Go events often provide space and activities which can improve health and wellbeing.” As well as signposting society events and sports programmes run by Exeter Sport such as the free ‘Pitch Up and Play’ programme. Keeping an open dialogue with their members, after consecutive weeks of cancelled swims EUOWSS utilised social media to explain that they only cancel swims due to safety issues. These explanations also included maps and links to sites such as SAS.org.uk and Surfline.com which allow individuals to monitor pollution levels and risk across the UK.  

Speaking to our local candidate, Will Aczel, he shared with Exeposé that “the government’s weak and reckless approach to our environment is outrageous.”

The criticism of South West Water has also been raised often by the local Liberal Democrat party, who in previous months called for a CEO bonus ban within the water industry. Speaking to our local candidate, Will Aczel, he shared with Exeposé that “the government’s weak and reckless approach to our environment is outrageous.” He went on to explain that “Since 2020, South West Water has dumped sewage for over 140,000 hours at designated bathing water sites. Enough is enough.” Aczel expressed further concern over the efficacy of the current regulations and the lack of fulfilled promises from the government dating back to last April. Looking at how the Liberal Democrats would address the issue, he stated that they would “demand tougher, legally binding targets on sewage discharges — especially for bathing waters.” He also explained how in addition to banning bonuses, they would improve funding for the Environment Agency and Natural England and add “environmental champions” to the boards of water companies to ensure decisions remain in the interest of the greater public. 

In response to concerns raised, South West Water’s Press office stated that while there are “a wide range of influences which affect water quality…we recognise that to improve the quality of our bathing waters we all need to play our part.” While South West Water don’t directly advise whether individuals can swim, they confirmed they do publish when bathing water quality is impacted due to storm overflow activations. These overflows are described as “Pressure relief valves” that function to prevent flooding and are also a combination of both sewage and surface water. While they allow locals to make their own informed decisions, alerts provided by apps such as Safer Seas and Rivers Service (SSRS) often warn against it directly. 

The University established a recent connection with South West Water through the development of the Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste (CREWW) building. The cost of the centre is thought to have been funded by the University, the government and South West Water. Despite the recent concerns highlighted by this connection, a spokesperson for the University states that they “are committed to leading meaningful action against the climate emergency and ecological crisis. We have a strong track record of using our research to secure significant change.” While the university also echoed the concerns of the public regarding pollution concerns, they assured that their association with SWW and work in the CREWW building aims solely to “protect drinking water supplies from pollution and ensuring the safe treatment and disposal of wastewater.” 

Looking forward, South West Water also state that they will “continue to work closely with local stakeholders and partners on improvements to the environment.” Yet for EUOWSS and Devon residents, the compilation of promises is yet to be met by any legal or visible action. 

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