Photos show ‘sewage’ pouring into sea near popular beach where people swim in

Storm discharge at Harlyn Bay

A water company has admitted “there is more to do” after videos and pictures showed sewage being released at a busy beach.

South West Water has acknowledged there is room for improvement after a series of pictures and videos emerged showing what appears to be sewage being discharged at a beach in Cornwall. The issue came to light earlier this week when a family unknowingly swam in contaminated water at Harlyn Bay due to small warning signs which went unnoticed.

On Wednesday, additional videos surfaced, revealing storm overflow gushing into the ocean. In one video, a man can be heard saying: “Back of Harlyn Sands, Padstow. Raw sewage, absolutely stinks. They’ve been down here the last four days testing it and trying to unblock it.”

The footage shows discoloured water at the point where it enters the sea. Furthermore, two pictures have circulated, seemingly depicting toilet waste in the area.

A concerned beachgoer shared their frustration, saying: “I spent three hours on the phone trying to establish who triggers the lifeguards to put up the legal pollution signs. Yesterday and today sewage warnings online but no information at the actual beach itself. No signs in place. When asking the lifeguards about water quality I was told no calls had been made about it. Surely the question is … to swim in poo or not to swim in poo…. ? However if intelligent people don’t know about said poo in the sea, then how can they make an informed decision? Heavy rain tonight ….. will be worse.”

South West Water clarified that the outfall at Harlyn discharges treated effluent from the treatment works as the main flow. However, intermittent storm overflow discharge may also occur.

As of Thursday morning, Surfers Against Sewage has issued storm sewage discharge warnings for 23 beaches in Cornwall, including popular spots like Widemouth Bay, Fistral, Gwithian, Porthcurno, Gylly, and Readymoney Cove. On Wednesday, there were sewage warnings at 25 Cornish beaches. South West Water’s Waterfit interactive map indicates that overflow warnings are currently in place for Harlyn Bay, Pentewan, and Portmellon.

South West Water responded to CornwallLive’s inquiry with a statement explaining that storm overflows are permitted during heavy rainfall to prevent homes from flooding. The company expressed its commitment to reducing the use of overflows in the future.

A spokesperson for South West Water stated: “There has been permitted storm overflow activity at some locations in Cornwall today following heavy, localised rainfall. Storm overflows are pressure relief valves built into our network that are an essential way to stop homes and businesses from flooding during periods of heavy rainfall.

“Reducing the use of storm overflows is a priority. We know there is more to do, and that is why we are investing record levels to dramatically reduce the use of storm overflows and reduce our impact on rivers by one-third by 2025.

“In Harlyn Bay, we are investing up to £800,000 to March 2025 to reduce the risk of environmental impact from our sewerage network and improve bathing water quality.”

In April, South West Water received a £2.1 million fine for pollution and sewage dumping in Cornwall. The recent concerns highlight the ongoing challenges faced by the company in ensuring water quality and environmental protection.

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