Southern Water: Sussex girl, 12, writes powerful letter urging water company to act more responsibly

"My mother can remember a time when no-one got sick after swimming in the water."

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 11:33 am
Updated Thursday, 5th August 2021, 11:34 am

A 12-year-old girl wrote these words in a powerful and thought-provoking letter to Southern Water, urging the company to be more responsible with harbour waters.

Southern was handed a record £90 million fine for pumping 16bn-21bn litres of untreated sewage into delicate ecosystems.

Ruthie Gawley, a junior member of Emsworth Sailing Club, enjoys swimming, sailing and kayaking in the harbour waters. However, along with her friends, she is often told by her parents that doing so may make her sick and she should not go near the water.

Ruthie Gawley, 12, is passionate about the environment and water quality

"My mother can remember a time when no-one got sick after swimming in the water," Ruthie wrote.

"My father checks an app telling him if there is raw sewage in the sea. Everyone in the seaside village of Emsworth feels these effects.

"The ocean means a lot to us. Hundreds of years ago, the sea kept Emsworth’s people alive.

"Now, it’s reversed we have to play our part. You have to play your part there is still time to change for you, us and the ocean."

'We're all responsible for the environment that we live in'

The youngster wrote the letter last Friday (July 25), in a workshop run by Final Straw Foundation.

A spokesperson for the environmental charity said: “With 34 hours of combined sewer overflow discharges into Chichester Harbour and a whopping 73 hours into Langstone Harbour in July, Ruthie’s letter couldn’t be more timely.

“Well done Ruthie, you are so eloquent and we are really proud of you.”

Thanking Ruthie for her letter, Southern added: “To her and all the young people who are so passionate about the environment and involved with causes such as water quality, we urge them to continue to speak up and campaign to help make a difference and effect change.

“We hope that they will find it not only reassuring but also a positive step change that bathing water quality is the best it has ever been since monitoring began in the 1980’s.

“In particular in the south-east we are blessed with some of the loveliest and best quality beaches.”

According to her dad, Alex, Ruthie is a 'socially active person' and is 'always on the lookout for ways she can make the world a bit better'.

Alex added: "This is a topic that impacts her and her friends. She likes to go sea swimming, sailing in the harbour and kayaking but, every now and then, we have to say you can't do that because there's been some sort of discharge into the harbour and we don't want them to get sick.

"She feels it's a really good example of a corporation not being responsible. That's something she cares a lot about, that we're all responsible for the environment that we live in.

"She felt she could write a letter to express that opinion.

"She didn't write it with the expectation of getting a response. All she cares about is they go ahead and start acting responsibly."

Southern Water is 'fully transparent' and 'passionately committed'

At the start of her letter, Ruthie urged Southern Water to stop taking shortcuts.

She wrote: "For you I guess it’s incredibly simple. Or complex, if you look at it like that.

"Scheduling goals, jobs to complete and very little time to consider all the variables and complexities of your work.

"However, the solution – the easy one – is simple. Do what you’re paid to do, maybe take a few shortcuts on the way. But these shortcuts are the problem.

"It’s 4.30 on a Friday afternoon and 100 children are set to swim in the surprisingly warm water in a few hours.

"Now though, they sit in a well-lit room writing letters to the company that is – by intention or not – poisoning the water they are exposed to.

"Tons of sewage are being pumped into Chichester Harbour and as the ecosystem perishes, the people feel the effect too."

Southern said Chichester Harbour and the surrounding area has some of the ‘most technologically advanced’ wastewater treatment in the country.

“But we know that we have to continue to work with our partners in the local authorities, landowners, developers and harbour users to further reduce the levels of nutrients going into the harbours,” a spokesperson added.

“Southern Water is working with all those partners through the Harbour Summit to look at what we all need to do to further protect and enhance the precious ecology of the harbours.

“The points that Ruthie so eloquently raise are more topical, known of and talked about than ever before – and we welcome this.”

Southern Water said it is 'passionately committed' to the environment and part of this is being 'fully transparent about how it operates'.

The spokesperson added: "It is leading the way within the water industry with pollution reporting, and the very app Ruthie reverences her father using (Beachbouy Bathing Water Portal), is part of this.

"People in our regions are more informed on the bathing waters in their area allowing them to make decisions on their activity, especially after rainfall.

"As a thank you to Ruthie we’d be happy to arranged for someone to attend Final Straw’s next workshop to talk about water quality in their area."