OVER a year's worth of untreated sewage was dumped across the Windermere catchment in 2023, new figures show. 

The Event Duration Monitoring data for last year has been released by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, which outlines how many hours each sewage outlet across the nation spilled last year. 

The data revealed that over 8,787 hours, or 366 days, of untreated sewage was discharged into the catchment from the seven sites United Utilities reports from. 

The top three were: 

  1. Grasmere  Wastewater Treatment Works: 2,532 hours (105 days)
  2. Hawkshead Pumping Station: 2,407 hours (100 days)
  3. Near Sawrey Wastewater Treatment Works: 2,028 hours (84.5 days)

Water companies are allowed to spill sewage in times of exceptional rainfall to prevent flooding. United Utilities, which manages outlets in Cumbria, said that 2023 was one of the wettest years on record. 

It also said that Windermere's six storm overflows were monitored for 52,560 hours and operated for 16 per cent of last year. 

Save Windermere, a campaign group which aims to eliminate sewage pollution in England's largest lake, blamed both the water companies and the regulator, the Environment Agency. 

It claimed that the agency is permitting spilling after 0.25mm of rain. A spokesperson from the agency said that exceptional rainfall is defined within the Storm Overflow Assessment Framework. If rainfall during the year is classed as 'exceptionally high' in the agency's Water Situation report then it is classed as exceptional, which is a one in 20 year high rainfall year. 

READ MORE: Windermere and Bowness Council support Lake Annecy sewage approach

The campaigners are calling for a live spilling map and for permits in the catchment to be updated. They also said that all current and historic investment to bring sites up to compliance should not fall on the bill-payer, but a spokesperson from United Utilities said that the investment is to meet the new requirements of the Environment Act 2021. 

They said that it is 'not correct' to suggest storm overflows operate because of underinvestment or because previous funding had not been spent. The water company said that it is investing £41million to reduce storm overflow operation at four sites in Windermere by 50 per cent by 2030. 

Ash Smith, the director of Windrush Against Sewage, another water campaign group that Save Windermere works with, said: "The country has been let down very badly and we need a massive injection of professionalism and integrity into the regulators and water companies to start delivering 21st century standards of treatment."

Mark Garth, a boss at United Utilities: “We have seen one of the wettest years on record in the North West and that has contributed to an increased number of storm overflow operations compared to the previous year. Since 2015, we have invested £45m upgrading wastewater systems around Windermere resulting in 50 per cent reduction in the levels of phosphorus entering the lake from our systems.

"Whilst the current system is designed to activate during rainfall I understand and share people’s concerns and the need for change and that’s why we are proposing a £3 billion record investment programme to tackle storm overflows in the north west between 2025 and 2030.  We are determined to deliver the step change that we all want to see.”

A spokesperson for the EA said: "The EA is already conducting the largest ever criminal investigation into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at thousands of sewage treatment works. This will address non-compliant storm overflows as part of our PR24 business plans, aligning with Defra’s Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan.”