NEW figures from the Environment Agency have laid bare how much raw sewage has been dumped in north Cumbrian waterways. 

The data reveals the frequency and duration of spills from storm overflows, which release untreated sewage into rivers and the sea, particularly during heavy rainfall, to prevent sewer backups.

The data highlights that the number of hours of sewage spills from United Utilities has risen to 656,014 hours in 2023, a significant increase from the 2022 figure of 425,491 hours.


For those living near Plumbland, near Aspatria, the wastewater treatment site spilled sewage for 6,471.57 hours in 2023 into the River Ellen, according to the latest figures released annually by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs. 

In Gilcrux, Bullclose Beck has suffered approximately 4,560 hours of sewage spills, whilst wastewater treatment works in Carlisle recorded 734.53 hours of spills into the River Eden catchment.

United Utilities (UU), the primary water company in charge of north-west sewage assets, attributes the sharp increase to England's sixth-wettest year on record in 2023.

Mark Garth, wastewater services director at United Utilities, said: "Whilst the current system is designed to activate during rainfall we understand and share people’s concerns and the need for change and that’s why we are proposing a £3billion programme to tackle storm overflows in the North West between 2025 and 2030. 

“For the first time, we are now monitoring all 2,264 storm overflows in the North West, giving us the best visibility of their performance we have ever had.  This data is crucial as we prioritise our record investment plans over the coming years to transform how the region’s sewerage system operates.

“It is going to take time to re-plumb the North West but we have already started and the figures show that we are moving in the right direction.

"Since 2020, even with the increased coverage of monitors and high rainfall, we have achieved a 15 per cent reduction in storm overflow operation.

"This is thanks to our voluntary investment in our Better Rivers Programme, improved operational processes and an early start on our proposed £13.7 billion business plan.

"Not only will this bring improvements to the environment, we expect this huge programme will boost the North West economy with an additional 7,000 jobs.

"We are determined to deliver the step change that we all want to see," he said. 

The firm hopes that recent initiatives, such as implementing an interim solution at Cargo, a small wastewater treatment site serving 254 homes near the River Eden, have resulted in reductions in annual spills from 343 to 1 since August 2023, providing positivity going forward.

The figures come at a time in which UU's expected average household water bill for 2023/24 is £443, an increase of 6.4 per cent compared to 2022/23 charges.

Julia Aglionby, Liberal Democrat candidate for Penrith & Solway and dedicated river swimmer, said: "I am appalled by the failure of this Conservative government to hold water companies to account.

"In Penrith and Solway the 2023 figures show raw sewage was released for over 73,000 hours.

"That equates to over 3,000 days of continuous sewage outfalls in one year into the rivers and estuaries of Penrith and Solway.

"I estimate this will place us as the second worst constituency in England based on new boundaries.

"United Utilities' programme to reduce sewage releases is unambitious; too little too late and will take far too long to deliver. 

"I swim in the River Eden several times a week all year and last year swam the full 80-mile length of the River Eden.

"This pollution catastrophe is therefore personal to me and I'm determined to work to ensure United Utilities is held to account for continuing to pollute Cumbria’s waterways, many of which are designated for nature."