NI surfers call for end to sewage pollution

Surfers against sewage in Portrush
Members of Surfers Against Sewage protest in Portrush on Saturday [BBC]

A protest has taken place at West Strand Beach in Portrush, County Antrim, calling for more "accountability, transparency and action" over sewage and wastewater being spilled into Northern Ireland's waterways.

It was organised by Surfers Against Sewage as part of a UK-wide day of action.

The campaign group wants to see an end to sewage discharge into all bathing waters and high-priority nature sites by 2030.

Helen Armstrong from the group was among those attending the Portrush protest.

"We're part of a national day of protest, so all round the UK Surfers Against Sewage are having demonstrations on rivers, lakes, beaches, all around the coast," she said.

"We've chosen Portrush today as one of the main surf spots in Northern Ireland to demonstrate and call for an end to sewage pollution."

She said the amount of raw sewage being dumped in Northern Ireland waterways was just "unbelievable".

"It happens every three days on average and the water quality last year where there was all the blue-green algae from Lough Neagh coming around to the north coast and the same will probably happen again this year," she added.

Aine McAuley is another member of Surfers Against Sewage and was at Saturday's protest.

She said Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have an independent environmental protection agency.

"But also, out of all the waterways, rivers, water courses in Northern Ireland, none of them meet a good European standard, a good water quality standard," she said.

Human waste and chemical discharge

In a statement, NI Water said it believes that "sharing more information in regard to our wastewater system and the effect that it has on the water quality of our rivers, loughs and seas, will help improve accountability, grow understanding and inform decision making about the investments we need to make as a society to protect nature and enable economic development".

NI Water has previously said it estimates that about 20 million tonnes of untreated sewage and wastewater are spilled into Northern Ireland's waterways annually.

Untreated sewage includes human waste and chemical discharge from factories.

NI Water said this spills from storm overflow pipes more than 24,500 times each year into rivers, lakes and bathing waters.

Two women on beach
Aine McAuley and Helen Armstrong from Surfers Against Sewage took part in Saturday's protest [BBC]

BBC News NI's environment correspondent Louise Cullen said NI Water has plans to install monitors to measure that accurately but under current budget constraints that programme could be in jeopardy.

Saturday's protests were coordinated by Surfers Against Sewage, which is calling for an end to the sewage discharges plaguing the UK’s rivers and seas.

The Portrush event was one of 30 held at beaches and rivers across the UK.

BBC News NI has contacted the Department for the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs for comment.