Dirty Water protest at Dawlish

On Sunday 13 August, Extinction Rebellion held a ‘Dirty Water’ protest at Dawlish seafront in Devon. [What follows is an edited version of their press release.]

This is part of ‘Wave Four’ of an ongoing Extinction Rebellion campaign running throughout 2023. Through a combination of theatrics and public engagement, protestors yet again peacefully highlighted the fact that our coastal waters and inland waterways are polluted: through the negligence and vested interests of privatised water utility companies, the lack of government action, and cutbacks to monitoring services such as the Environment Agency.

The Dirty Water campaign highlights the need for government and industry to act urgently to stop poisoning coastal waters and waterways across the UK, and instead to start cleaning them up. Dirty Water issues the public with information, and stages action aimed at engaging and mobilising those who are passionate about addressing water pollution.

A spokesperson for Teignbridge Extinction Rebellion said:

“Every summer we’re watching the same nightmare unfold. The crumbling sewage infrastructure fails with even modest amounts of rain, and spills raw sewage into our rivers and beaches. In 2022, sewage was dumped 375,000 times for a combined 2.3 million hours. Over the same period, England’s water companies paid out £1.4bn to shareholders, instead of using every last penny to get this situation fixed.

We are sick of it. This has to stop. In addition to organic matter, raw sewage often contains microplastics, industrial and agricultural chemicals, prescribed medications, parasites and heavy metals. This chemical cocktail is not only dangerous to humans, but can harm marine and freshwater ecosystems.”

Meanwhile, only 14 per cent of the UK’s rivers achieve ‘good’ ecological status, with pollution from agriculture, contaminated run-off from roads, single-use plastics, and human sewage – containing all the toxic material described above – creating a similar, dangerous chemical cocktail in our waterways.

In December 2022, the Environment Agency was said to be pushing back targets to clean up England’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters, from 2027 to 2063 – which prompted an outcry.

Campaigner Etienne Stott, Olympic gold medal canoeist, said:

“It’s disgusting, literally, to think what’s being pumped into our rivers. The government and the water companies aren’t going to clean up unless ordinary people put pressure on them. Extinction Rebellion can’t do this alone. We need everyone who cares about our rivers and seas to stand up with us and speak out. The Dirty Water actions are part of a bigger campaign to protect nature and our waterways.”

The campaign is urging everyone – whether or not they witnessed the protest at Dawlish – to protest, to join the Dirty Water campaign to save marine and freshwater biodiversity, and tell the polluters that enough is enough.

“Nature and people globally depend on clean waters to live and thrive and ultimately rivers are the lifeblood of the ocean.”