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Externalities and Government Failure - Raw Sewage and Britain's Beaches

Geoff Riley

21st August 2022

Videos of beaches on the south coast of Britain being afflicted by raw sewage pumped into the sea are a vivid example of government and regulatory failure.

The privatised regional water companies are legally allowed to discharge sewage if infrastructure is overwhelmed. And this infrastructure is clearly inadequate in dealing with surges in drains when heavy rain arrives. The criticism is that regional water utilities have not spent enough on improving drain capacity across the UK leading to increasingly frequent contamination.

According to this report from Sky News, water companies have pumped raw sewage into Britain's seas and rivers for more than nine million hours since 2016.

Many are worried about the health impact of the polluted waters and there is a significant wider economic issue about the impact on areas heavily dependent on tourism.

Pressure groups such as Surfers Against Sewage numerous local groups are campaigning for political action to change the laws on sewage emissions.

283 MPs voted down part of an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have enforced a legal responsibility on sewage companies to crack down on the release of raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters during heavy rainfall. The majority are now being pilloried on social media.

The current safe water map for the UK can be found here

And here is a comment piece on the UK water industry from economist Will Hutton which makes the case for water and sewage nationalisation.

Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for over thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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