The long history of using maps to hold water companies accountable
Southern Water was handed a record fine of £90 million in July 2021 after pleading guilty to illegally discharging sewage along the rivers and coastline of Kent, Hampshire and Sussex. More than a year later, the headlines have not improved for Britain's embattled water companies who have recently discharged more sewage close to dozens of beaches.
The Environment Agency has called on water company executives to face jail due to the ongoing failings on environmental performance. And with the onset of drought, complaints about leaky water pipes have gone from a trickle to a stream.
Maps by conservation organization The Rivers Trust and campaign group Surfers Against Sewage lay bare the extent of sewage dumping into rivers and the sea. They have proved to be a highly effective tool, not just to warn of the risks to bathers but also to provide evidence of environmental damage.
These maps pull together data from sensors along the sewage network that detect discharges, making it clear where the worst offenders are and encouraging users to contact their local MP requesting more rapid action on sewage discharge. They are easy to share on social media and on local news sites, they have inspired viral tweets and they make for awkward viewing for the water companies themselves.