The UK is Full of S**t (well, the waterways at least)

There is a problem in this country and it smells like you-know-what, because it is you-know-what. Our waterways are full of it.

You’d think the sixth richest nation could manage basic sanitation but in 2024 in the UK you’d be wrong.

It’s so bad that this weekend’s boat race was affected by the amount of e.coli in The Thames. I know what you’re thinking, “When will the kids who go to Oxford and Cambridge Universities get a break in life?”

But it’s an embarrassment that we can’t even hold an event on our rivers now. The rowers were given safety advice before the race that they should avoid getting any splashed water in their mouths. During a rowing race!? You might as well tell them to try not to rush.

Leonard Jenkins of the Oxford men’s team said, “It would be a lot nicer of there wasn’t as much poo in the water.”

How terrible that that needs to be said. The only time that would be worse to hear is in a Trip Advisor review of a cafe.

On Wednesday, Environment Agency figures revealed raw sewage spills doubled last year in England to 3.6 million hours of spills compared with 1.75 million hours in 2022. I was shocked that it happens so much we have to measure poos by the hour. To put this in terms you can relate to, an hour of poo is about 30 trip for a woman and about 2 for a man.

This is because our water systems get overwhelmed when there is a lot of rain. Hello, have you met the UK before? Rain is pretty much our thing. Sewage is spilled into waterways to prevent the system backing up.

In a statement issued before the race, Thames Water said: "We have experienced higher than average long-term rainfall across London.” How can you have higher than average “long-term” rainfall. If it’s long-term, it increases the average. Step up and cope with it.

Water companies have two jobs. Well, they have lots of jobs that they keep releasing into our rivers. But they have two main functions to provide. They should give us clean, drinkable water. Remember that when, in a few months time, we’re going from “higher than average, long-term rainfall” to hosepipe bans.

Water firms in England and Wales lost 1 trillion litres via leaky pipes in 2021. That’s more than three and a half Lake Windermeres wasted, yet you’ll be told you can’t water your Rhododendron.

The other role they need to provide is to take our waste away and keep it away. That’s not what happens. If you’re a wild swimmer there’s a good chance you’ll be reunited with your waste when you go for an open mouthed swim.

What can we do if the water companies continue to fail? Basically, nothing. I’d say fine them but it’ll just be added to the water bills we pay. We’ll pay more for the pleasure of swimming with our own poops. It won’t hit their profits.

In 2022-23, England's water firms made £1.7bn in pre-tax profits. This is up 82% since 2018-19. Water UK, the industry trade body, said bills would increase by 6% on average next financial year – more than the current 4% inflation rate. You know what I’d accuse them of taking, but they’re literally not. They’re letting our boat racers drink it.

It would help if we could have a nuanced debate about privatisation. You don’t have to always love it or always hate it. A public owned British Telecom was slow and needlessly bureaucratic. It used to take months to apply to get a second phone installed in your own home. But privatisation only works when you can bring in competition. If I don’t like my local water company my only option is to buy a lot of bottled water and wash my clothes in a local river and I’m not going near that, it’s full of poops.

Having a private company in charge of a local monopoly will always mean they prioritise profits over reinvestment to keep the system running.

If you have any solutions I would say you should float them by me, but we have enough of that happening already.

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