Risk of raw sewage being released into Leighton Buzzard's River Ouzel during winter is highlighted

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Budget cuts for the Environment Agency have made it harder for problem to be monitored

Raw sewage releases into Central Bedfordshire water sources, including the River Ouzel at Leighton Buzzard, are inevitable with heavy winter rain, a councillor was warned.

Budget cuts for the Environment Agency have made it harder for the organisation to know when there are problems, according to Independent Linslade Central Bedfordshire councillor Victoria Harvey.

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"Sewer outflows in Leighton Buzzard aren't monitored, so it's very hard to know how much is being released," she told a Central Bedfordshire Council meeting last week

The River OuzelThe River Ouzel
The River Ouzel

"And the Environment Agency has had its budget cut by two thirds since 2010, so there's a huge shortage of people on the ground who see what's happening," she explained.

"But there are outflows during the year and it's a concern. It's very difficult for the council to deal with it."

Councillor Harvey, who's also a Leighton-Linslade town councillor, submitted a written question to a full CBC meeting "about public heath guidance around recreation by rivers to reduce the pressure on hospitals and GP surgeries".

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It read: "The Environment Agency figures show the water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times last year.

"Untreated effluent, including human waste, wet wipes and condoms, was released into waterways for more than three million hours in 2020."

Councillor Harvey said: "If there's heavy rain this winter, as is very likely, there'll be raw sewage discharges into our rivers.

"Should Central Bedfordshire Council be advising residents, especially regarding children and dogs, not to play in or by rivers unless they fully wash and sanitise afterwards, as this could create many health risks?" she asked.

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Conservative Sandy councillor Tracey Stock replied: "We've been liaising with our public protection officers, who'd be responsible for notifying and making the public aware if there's an issue with our waterways.

"They've contacted Anglian Water. A public statement would only be made in response to a storm event or system failure, according to the CBC flood risk team leader.

"This is where there's locally specific data shared by the regulator to quantify the risk and which would show sufficient danger to health to require public communications.

"In this case, CBC might reiterate a warning from Anglian Water and the Environment Agency, but would be unlikely to lead on identifying the need for this," she said.

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"So there's engagement to better understand how those organisations currently monitor the risk to health and whether there's a set trigger when a public alert or communication may be required.

"Without knowing what the pollution levels are and at what point it becomes a serious threat, it could be misrepresentative of CBC to release a general statement for all water courses to be avoided or which pose a risk.

"When a combined sewer overflows, community service officers are in action and this is likely in response to a severe storm event in Central Bedfordshire.

"We would advise the public not to enter deep or fast flowing rivers or bodies of water regardless."

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Anglian Water is committed to reducing the combined sewer overflows, added councillor Stock, who's the executive member for health, wellbeing and communities.

"Zero sewage pollution is one of its 12 business goals under which it's committed to eliminating serious pollutions in our region by 2025 and to reducing the number of significant pollutions by at least 45 per cent."

Councillor Harvey thanked councillor Stock for "the huge amount of time and effort you've put into this", saying: "This is very much an issue which is the failure of government policy and it's a council dealing with the impacts."