Members of Dartmouth Town Council met Officers from South West Water on Thursday to discuss serious concerns over water quality in Dartmouth, in particular at Warfleet Creek.

The quality of the water has been in question since SWW recorded a record number of discharges at Warfleet Creek in 2022, with the 364 discharges reported making it the highest amount of discharges in the country.

However, in the meeting South West Water assured attendees that the water quality was safe, and that these discharges were a result of ‘storm overflows’.

A spokesperson for SWW said: “South West Water were delighted to be at this meeting and be able to outline the plans that SWW has with storm overflows and to confirm that it is ahead of the Governments target for 100% monitoring by already having it in place.

“This was also a great opportunity for South West Water to outline the specific workings of the Warfleet Creek site and where it serves.”

John Halsall, South West Water’s Chief Operating Office, said: “Reducing the use of storm overflows is one of our main priorities. This is an important issue for us, our customers and communities, as is the health of our rivers and seas. We are reducing the use of storm overflows with strong investments across our network.”

The meeting was attended by Town Cllr Liz Moseley, Ben Cooper SHDC and Jonathan Hawkins SHDC and DCC.

Liz said: “The SWW representatives gave us a brief explanation of the system in operation at Warfleet, part of that explanation was that there had to be consistent and heavy rainfall for several days which overwhelmed the system before any waste would be pumped into the river.”

“They also stated that the figure of 364 discharges had included maintenance runs of the pump which were not discharges.”

“Ben, Jonathan and I expressed our dismay that this information had not been made public the result of which has led to a negative image of our river and Town in the National press.

“Moving forward, we have asked SWW to provide the actual figures of the discharges at Warfleet, Ben is also working with Friends of the River Dart, Dartmouth Harbour Office and Surfers against Sewerage who are starting to test water quality.

“We also discussed the possibility of making Warfleet Creek a Designated Bathing Area which I will be proposing to the Town Council.

“I am a keen outdoor swimmer and have been swimming at Warfleet since the beginning of lockdown, we regularly get joined by seals or a kingfisher, I have been avoiding Warfleet but am going to start swimming there again.

“Warfleet Creek is a beautiful swimming spot which has been enjoyed by many generations before us, I really do hope we can protect it for the generations to come.”

Ben expressed his concern about how an error like this can be allowed to slip through the gaps, and dismay at the negative impact this has had for Dartmouth’s town image.

He said: “Whilst on the whole it was a positive meeting – I remain confused as to their response to the number of spills which were recorded at Warfleet Creek last year.

“They claimed that due to an error in the system, a spill was recorded for around a minute and a half over several days when a spill never occurred and this counted towards the 364 figure which appeared on BBC News as the highest in the country.

“What they failed to explain is that this would account for around 9 hours of the total of 644.77 hours of spills recorded on the River Trust website, a figure they didn’t dispute...

“So that is still 635 hours of what I can only assume to be genuine spills which occured at Warfleet which they still haven’t accounted for and I am still waiting for an explanation.”

He added: “Also, if the figures are wrong why haven’t SWW done anything to correct the record? Dartmouth made national news for all the wrong reasons and I know numerous people who have stopped swmming at Warfleet Creek due to the bad headlines it got.

“It seems SWW left Dartmouth out on a limb, a town which relies on tourism and the use of the River, it will also impact on our efforts to get the area designated as bathing water due to the fewer swimmings using it.”

He added: “In more positive news, I am excited to be working with and supporting Town Councillors in an effort to make Warfleet Creek a designated bathing area so we can get the water their regularly tested.”

Mr Halsall of SWW said: “We know there is more to do, and that is why we are investing to dramatically reduce our use of storm overflows and reduce our impact on rivers by one-third by 2025. We have now installed monitoring on 100% of our storm overflows, helping us to target our investment and interventions to reduce spill numbers.

“We also launched WaterFit Live, an interactive map which provides near real time data on the performance of our network at designated bathing beaches. Customers and visitors can go online to find out more and through Your Beach, Your Say, Our Investment, help shape where we invest next.”

The meeting was arranged by Anthony Mangnall MP who was unable to attend as he was delayed in Westminster, but he is arranging a meeting in Dartmouth with SWW in September.

He said: “I was pleased to be able to arrange a meeting between South West Water representatives and local councillors to discuss the water quality at Warfleet. I am grateful that SWW has provided an explanation for the high spill count that was recorded in 2022, and look forward to seeing far better statistics for 2023.

I am aware that recent news reports were a source of worry for many residents and tourists, but this information provides reassurance that SWW is working to clean up our waterways.

“I will continue to work closely with SWW on this, and invite local residents to attend our upcoming open meetings, the first of which is in Kingsbridge on 15th August – find more information on my website.”