Members of the public expressed their grievances to water bosses about seas and rivers being polluted with sewage.

They had a chance to share concerns with Wessex Water's Sewage Infrastructure management team at a meeting at The Portland Community Venue. It was organised by Extinction Rebellion campaigners as part of the group's Don’t Pay for Dirty Water movement.

The Wessex Water team faced an agitated public with questions about water safety, pollution, testing, and storm overflows at the meeting.

Dorset Echo: Around 25 members of the public attended the meetingAround 25 members of the public attended the meeting (Image: Cristiano Magaglio)

Representing Wessex Water were Commercial and Strategy Manager Julian Okoye, Engineering Manager Andy Mears and Matt Wheeldon, Director of Infrastructure Development.

Storm overflows are designed to act as relief valves when the sewerage system is at risk of being overwhelmed, such as during heavy downpours. To prevent the system being overwhelmed, water companies sometimes use storm overflows to release extra rainwater and wastewater into rivers or seas.

When asked why storm overflows seemed to be increasing, Matt Wheeldon answered that because of climate change, we are seeing wetter winters causing more storm overflows.

Read more: Weymouth's wettest February on record, and it's not done

Mr Wheeldon said: "We hate storm overflows as well, we want to get rid of them as much as everyone else, but it isn't going to happen overnight."

He said that Wessex Water would rather not have to manage the 'rainwater hitting your roofs', but it was the system it inherited. Ideally, it would like to see the rain disconnected from the sewer system.

Dorset Echo: Matt WheeldonMatt Wheeldon (Image: Cristiano Magaglio)

Mr Wheeldon added that Wessex Water has set out a plan to meet the government's new targets for storm overflows, as 800 of the company's 1,300 locations do not hit the target. All storm overflows in Weymouth and Portland are expected to be at this standard by 2045, with most being completed by 2035.

Another issue concerned the testing of safe bathing water at locations such as West Bay. Wessex Water says that the current method, conducted by the Environment Agency, is infrequent and takes days. It intends to gradually roll out its own 'world first' testing method using AI to give half-hour readings of water safety. This is already being used at Warleigh Weir, near Bath, where Mr Wheeldon swims.

Asked why investors are receiving millions in returns despite the need for infrastructure investment, Mr Okoye answered that whilst investors received £70m in returns, £300m was invested. He also said that as an Ofwat-regulated monopoly, returns are a lower percentage than the Ofgem-regulated monopolies such as gas and electric.

When asked about pollution damaging river ecology, the Wessex Water team answered that it is only responsible if they are causing the problem, but things like agricultural run-off are a big factor that it has no control over.

Read more: Clean up of nurdles and plastics at Weymouth Beach

Read more: Call for action over claims that Wessex Water illegally dumped sewage

Other concerns at the meeting regarded Chesil Beach and Cove not being designated as bathing waters, which one member of the public found 'appalling'. This designation is government-assigned and requires certain conditions such as a survey showing 100 people on the beach on two different days of the year.

Meeting organiser Caz Dennett, of Extinction Rebellion, said afterwards: "I don't think Wessex Water perceive sewage pollution to be a problem as much as we do - they believe it is a problem we may be imagining. We need to mitigate the risks as much as possible and protect what we have."

Dorset Echo: Caz DennettCaz Dennett (Image: Cristiano Magaglio)