Britain's got a sewage problem

(Unsplash/Chris Liverani)

Today – and I hope you aren't eating – I want to talk about sewage! Specifically, the tons and tons of raw sewage that water companies are allowed to pump into our lakes and rivers every day.

Since 2020, there have been 1.4 million legal sewage dumps in England's waterways, totalling a period of 10 million hours. That amounts to eleven hundred years! Imagine a continual pouring of sewage into our waters every single day since the Vikings fought the Saxons for control of the land.

I've been campaigning on this issue for a long time because I see the huge impact that sewage dumping has in my own constituency. Most of the beautiful lakes in my constituency are affected. On top of the appalling consequences for our environment and wildlife, it has become a health hazard for people seeking to enjoy watersports or swimming in the likes of Windermere or Coniston.

The water companies are finally taking notice of people's anger but have sparked further controversy through their plans to increase water bills in order to cover the costs of cleaning up the pollution that they have created.

However, it's also true that governments of all colours have failed to hold these private companies accountable for the consequences of their negligence. There have been 960 occasions of illegal sewage dumping in the UK since 2020 - but these have led to just 16 prosecutions. It feels as though the water companies are just factoring into their budget calculations the small risk of a fine, which is far cheaper to them than actually making adequate investment in the sewage and drainage network.

Tim, you say, why are you talking poop again? What's this got to do with Christianity? Well, it's about caring for the natural world. The leading Conservative Michael Gove, currently Secretary of State for Levelling up, put it well in his lecture to Christian thinktank Theos in 2018, when he said:

"For Christians, the ethical responsibility we have towards the environment is encapsulated in the concept of stewardship. Christians are called to remember their rightful place within Creation – and the vast web of life it created – and their responsibility to protect and defend it."

God created a beautiful world for us to live in. He was pleased with all he had made, and he has given us the task of looking after it.

I've discussed before the tendency in some Christian circles to assume that care for creation is not a priority because it does not directly bring people to Christ. Yet our natural world is a pointer to the awesomeness of God. It cannot help singing his praises.

Psalm 96 says:

"Let the fields be jubilant and everything in them;

Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy,

Let all creation rejoice before the Lord"

And Jesus told the Pharisees in Luke 19:40, that if his disciples stopped joyfully praising God, "the stones will cry out."

People are increasingly turning to nature for a sense of peace, awe and perspective that they may not find elsewhere in their lives. In the natural world we glimpse God's bounty and beauty.

In Romans 1:18-20, Paul sets out that humans are without excuse when they turn their backs on God because God has made his existence and his glory clear to everyone through his creation. We are not to worship the environment, or any of God's creation – but in worshipping the creator we are to take care of it.

The water companies aren't the only culprits. Much of the pollution in our lakes, rivers and seas comes from industry, from agriculture and from private septic tanks, and it's right to remember that the water companies are simply operating within a framework that government and the regulator Ofwat allow them to, so when we level criticism let's be gracious, proportionate and fair, but let's also be firm that it is not right that the mucky business of politics has failed to regulate the also mucky business of what we do with sewage!

Obedience to our God includes caring for the land and the water he created, and doing so actively.

So let's pray today for everyone involved in stewarding our creation to take this responsibility seriously, whether they are water industry bosses or government ministers - whether they know God or not.

Tim Farron has been the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale since 2005, and served as the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party from 2015 to 2017.Tim is also the host of Premier's 'A Mucky Business' podcast. His new book A Mucky Business: Why Christians should get involved in politics is published in November.