Press Statement: The Rivers Trust calls for real-time sewage alerts in Northern Ireland to protect waterways and public health

The Rivers Trust supports the findings of the Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) Water Quality Report for 2023, published today, which rings the alarm bell about the critical state of water quality management in Northern Ireland and Britain.

Matthew Woodard


The new report, which is broken down by region, underscores that in Northern Ireland there is a lack of raw sewage discharge monitoring, meaning, while anecdotal reports and water quality data suggests the problem is significant, unquantifiable volumes of pollution is being regularly pumped onto local beaches and popular inland freshwater and estuarine bathing sites.

All-Ireland Director of The Rivers Trust Mark Horton commented on the SAS Water Quality Report, stating, “The recent report from Surfers Against Sewage underscores longstanding environmental concerns we continually raise. The evidence of the effects of sewage and pollution is there and clear. The severe algal bloom in Lough Neagh is a stark illustration of the consequences of poor environmental stewardship in Northern Ireland.

“This includes outdated and overloaded sewerage systems leading to frequent sewage discharges into our rivers, loughs, and coastal waters. Combined with lack of monitoring and accountability this situation not only threatens our aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem, but also the health of swimmers, surfers, anglers, and other water-users. This year we all witnessed the devastating effects of a badly managed environment when Lough Neagh was choked in blue-green algae. That is going to continue to happen until we take water pollution seriously - whether it comes from urban or rural sources.”

Northern Ireland’s 2,398 operational sewage overflows, and the sparse data on their performance, emphasise an urgent need for investment in increased monitoring and more transparency so the public can make informed decisions and remedial actions can be taken.

Mark continued: “The management of sewage in Northern Ireland shows a critical need for investment and modernisation. With the absence of a functioning Stormont Executive and no independent environment agency, decisive actions to protect and restore water quality are practically impossible.

“This inaction is unacceptable. Water users in Northern Ireland deserve the same level of safety and information as those elsewhere. Ultimately, we need proper resourcing of Northern Ireland Water to enable it to put in place real-time sewage alerts, so swimmers, surfers and anglers can protect themselves from direct discharges of untreated sewage.”

“While NIW’s plans to deploy monitoring systems by 2024 are a positive step, the lack of clarity on how data will be disseminated and public accessibility to the data remains a concern.

“Real-time, accessible water quality information isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity for the health and safety of our communities and ecosystems.

“We support Surfers Against Sewage and join its call in urging for a transformative approach to water quality management in Northern Ireland. It's time for better investment, greater transparency, and effective actions to safeguard our precious water resources,” Mark said In light of these findings, The Rivers Trust calls for immediate action and collaboration among governmental bodies, environmental organisations, and the community.

Mark concluded: “We again advocate for, the establishment of a comprehensive sewage monitoring system in Northern Ireland with open data access, increased and transparent reporting of pollution incidents, enhanced investment in infrastructure to prevent sewage discharges and more public awareness campaigns to inform and engage communities in water protection.

“The Rivers Trust remains committed to safeguarding the water quality of our rivers and coasts across the entire island of Ireland and Britain. We believe that through collaborative efforts and heightened awareness, we can address these challenges and ensure the health and safety of our aquatic environments and communities.”

Read the Surfers Against Sewage Water Quality Report.

Back to top