Guide to reporting water pollution incidents

By Bethany Rossiter

Water pollution in rivers can become a major hazard to the environment, ecosystems and humans if not dealt with quickly and in the correct manner. In many cases, the public often are the first to notice a pollution incident, and therefore public reports of water pollution become key to keeping on top any pollution issues.

Rubbish backed-up behind obstruction 1.png

Rubbish backed up behind an obstruction

Water pollution isn’t just restricted to raw sewage leaks or chemical spills(1). Pollution can come from many sources such as:

  • fly tipping
  • slurries and manures running off farmland into watercourses
  • agro-chemicals (i.e. pesticides) from farmland
  • soil run-off (from cultivations of cropping land or re-sown grasslands), entering watercourses and flowing onto roads or public rights of way
  • dumping and/or burning of agricultural plastics
  • milk entering watercourses, which can be very damaging to freshwater life
  • diesel oil spills or other vehicle maintenance related discharges (i.e. from leaking machinery)
  • building works: ground works, quarry operations, or mine related discharges (including from disused mine adit/shafts)
  • any significant/out of the ordinary water discharges (whatever its smell, colour, or condition) which could cause localised flooding

More information on different types of water pollution incidents can be found here.

Field Run-off Enters Roads & Streams - 2017 (4)

Field run off enters roads and streams

Sewage Fungus downstream of yard drainage - 2018

Sewage fungus in a river

What to do if you come across an incident of pollution:

To report an incident to the Environment Agency ring their incident hotline (0800 807 060), which is manned 24 hours, 7 days a week.

It would help the Environment Agency in their investigations of your report, and aid the subsequent clean up of the incident, if you can provide as much detail as possible such as:

  • photos and videos
  • time and date of when you discovered the issue
  • accurate grid reference and location if possible

Also, if you want to be kept updated with the progress the Environment Agency are making as a result of your report, provide them with a method to contact you (phone number, email address) (1). Any reports are treated as anonymous.

The report will be passed to a local duty officer within 30 minutes to assess.

Furthermore, if the pollution incident is clearly the result of a sewage discharge from a water treatment works or pumping station, then the best course of action is to report the incident to South West Water directly, as well as the Environment Agency; so the problem can be dealt with quickly by engineers. Reports can be made to South West Water via this link, or via phoning 0344 346 2020 (Operational Helpline- not a free call).

 (1) Surfers Against Sewage (5 June 2009), Reporting a pollution incident- What you should do…, website accessed 30th October 2018, <;


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