Original article from Kent Live
Southern Water's history of sewage dumping into the sea is a topic that has been in the headlines for the last couple of months.
It was only earlier this week when yet another sewage dump from water treatment company caused a warning for people to not enter the sea at Tankerton.
The company has a history of fines dating back to 2007 for this practice, and were fined £90million in July for their actions.
In response to this issue as group was set up this week to directly fight these sewage dumps and keep a close eye on the activities of Southern Water.
SOS Whitstable were only formed on Monday (August 9) but have already been gaining traction.
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The group is currently made up of 11 individuals who all met as part of a local wild swimming group, called the Bubbletits Bluetits.
They are all passionate about protecting the environment and dedicated to making the seas a safe place for all.
Sally Burtt-Jones, one of the founding members, said: "Whilst we believe that organisations like Southern Water should be acting with their customers’ health and wellbeing at the forefront of everything they do, unfortunately that is clearly not the case.
"We need to put pressure on all responsible parties in this situation to create change, including local government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency – most of whom we are already in conversation with – and galvanise as much local support as possible until this stops.
"We have a lot of work to do. The fact it has come down to residents taking action and forming a community group is sad but we have the full support of businesses and locals to take this on."
Sally said they've already been contacted by people in areas around the country who recognise this problem is happening near their own coastlines and plan to form similar groups in response.
Damage to the local area
The sewage dumps aren't just affecting marine health and that of the residents – but the economic risk is great too.
Seaside towns like Whitstable rely heavily on tourism but are worried the dumps will damage their reputation and bring fewer tourists in.
Robert Lindley runs paddle boarding school Whitstable Paddles, off the beach, which was unable to venture out due to the dangers of potentially swimming in harmful bacteria.
Sally added: "Those businesses that rely fully on the water to be able to operate, like Rob’s business, are unable to function when there is sewage in the sea.
"That means in the short-term, having to refund existing bookings when there has been a leak, but also the long-tail of individuals choosing to go elsewhere to paddle, which will continue to hit his business hard, until we can guarantee a clean bill of health, permanently, for the sea.
"For a town that relies so heavily on tourism, other businesses will also suffer if we build a reputation for not having clean swimming waters.
"The coast is a huge draw for people as a place to relax and have fun, and if people can’t enjoy it then they will stop coming here, eating in our incredible restaurants and spending money on our beautiful, independent high street."
Southern Water's responsibilities
Sally said: "Our goal is for Southern to permanently end the release of raw sewage in the sea [as] ultimately we need all water companies to stop releasing in all our waterways.
"We pay our bills for wastewater to be taken away and treated so that it can not damage the environment, not to end up spotting it whilst we’re swimming!
"Local residents also spoke at a recent meeting about having to brush raw sewage down the streets to stop it flooding their homes, people should not have to live like this.
"Southern need to urgently upgrade or replace their infrastructure so that it doesn’t fail and leak, and in the short-term, the overflow tanks need to be enlarged so that they only release when there is a huge storm, not every time it rains.
"So far this year they’ve released over 300 times, just from Swalecliffe, that’s absolutely unacceptable, and quite frankly, disgusting.
"We urgently need daily water testing so that people know when it’s safe to swim, as currently people are getting sick, and nobody seems to be able to tell us exactly what is being released and how it could affect our health."
The group have a meeting with the Environment Agency booked and have already started making progress.
Sally said: "It has been absolutely inspiring to see how just a few passionate people can make so much noise and garner so much support in the space of less than five days!
"Over 1,400 are following us on our SOS Whitstable Facebook page, but actually we’ve reached over 13,000 individuals and had over 5800 engagements with our posts.
"We’ve been contacted by media outlets, universities, councillors, and lots of other groups around the country who are facing the same problems with pollution in our beautiful rivers and seas.
"In the end, all of human existence relies on our natural capital – in the end Southern Water will not be able to sustain their business activities at all, if we don’t take care of our environment."