Ringwood flood warden resigns over raw sewage in River Avon
A TOWN’S flood warden has resigned following “unsatisfactory” responses from the Environment Agency and Wessex Water over raw sewage levels in the area.
Cllr Gareth Deboos of Ringwood Town Council described his resignation as flood warden as “regretful” but felt he had no choice given the “quite appalling” dangers of alleged sewage contamination in the River Avon.
Cllr Deboos said: “Following some recent online training sessions related to flooding, I was reminded of the importance of carrying out risk assessments before taking action as a flood warden.
“I have also seen reports relating to the discharge of raw sewage into the Avon at times when flow rates into the waste treatment plants are too high for the works to cope, which is usually related to times of high rainfall due to the foul and rainwater drainage systems not being separate.
“I had not appreciated that water companies routinely discharge sewage. I have asked the Environment Agency specifically what effect the increases in discharges from sewage treatment plants at Fordingbridge, Downton and beyond have on water quality in Ringwood. I have not received a satisfactory answer.
He added: “I do not wish to put my health at risk of gastroenteritis, infectious diarrhoea and similar. I will still, of course, assist in the event of an emergency and with efforts to improve our response to flood events.”
An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “[We are] holding water companies to account to reduce pollution, tackle storm overflows and invest more of their profits into the environment.
“All the data on storm overflows is published online. This data is being used at an operational level to prioritise the most frequent spills for further assessment by EA officers.
“Only wider action through water company investment, better farming practices and simple steps taken in the home to prevent sewer misuse will help ensure we have healthier sewers, cleaner rivers and a better environment for all.”
Ringwood Town Council acknowledged Cllr Deboos’ resignation and Cllr Gloria O’Reilly also indicated she would be considering her position as a flood warden.
The authority said it would contact Wessex Water regarding the providing of PPE for flood wardens.
Wessex Water said it was sorry to hear the flood warden had resigned. It added that it had only just received a request for personal protective equipment to be provided and would be discussing this with the town council.
A spokesman added: “We do have storm overflows in the area that release dilute wastewater during times of heavy rainfall to protect homes from flooding. These are permitted by the Environment Agency who receive data for when they operate. Importantly, storm overflows are not cited as contributing to the River Avon failing to achieve ‘good status’ for water quality.
“We accept that there is need for a step change in the way storm overflows operate in the UK, but to do so is not simple and will require several years of sustained investment – to eliminate all overflows in England and Wales will cost in excess of £300 billion.
“We are monitoring and reporting all overflow operations; identifying the ones that will potentially cause environmental or public health harm; addressing those and then progressively working through the others.”
Since 2000, Wessex Water says it has invested £181 million on upgrading nearly 600 storm overflows across its region, with a further £150 million set aside for improvements between 2020 and 2025.