Preventing water pollution from your home

Help us to reduce river pollution

When we think about river pollution, we might assume it comes from places like factories, farms and industry. Yet, in many cases the pollution in our rivers comes from a much less obvious source - our homes. Incorrect plumbing could mean that waste water from dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, baths and even toilets is flushed directly into a local river. These 'misconnected' pipes are a common cause of pollution to rivers and streams, especially in towns and cities.

It all starts with drainage

There are normally two forms of drainage - surface water and foul water.

  • Surface water drains, or 'storm drains' carry rainwater from road surfaces and rooftops into local rivers and streams and flows into the river untreated.
  • Foul water drains carry waste water from toilets, sinks, baths and household appliances to the sewage treatment works. This water is treated before it can safely flow back into river and streams.

However, some houses have a combined drainage system meaning that foul and surface water all drain to the foul sewer. If this is the case, all the water from your house goes to a sewage plant for treatment.

How can drainage lead to pollution?

If household appliances are accidentally connected to the surface water drain, instead of the foul water drain, waste water from sinks, toilets and washing machines go straight into watercourses.

People doing their own plumbing - and sometimes even professional plumbers - can accidentally create these misconnections.

How are watercourses affected?

Untreated sewage effluent in the water causes oxygen levels to drop drastically, sewage fungus covers the bed of the watercourse like a blanket and in more severe cases the river can no longer support fish, insects and animals that live in and around the water.

What are we doing about misconnections?

If a misconnection is the likely cause of pollution, the local water company and the Environment Agency will try to find out which property it is coming from. The householder will be notified and it becomes their responsibility to arrange for the problem to be resolved.

Details of the property are passed through to the environmental health department of the local authority. An environmental health officer will serve an enforcement notice on the householder to put the misconnection right within a set time period, or face prosecution.

The Environment Agency, Water UK, water companies and a wide range of stakeholders are also working together in partnership to improve the quality of our rivers and beaches by reducing the impact of misconnections.

What can you do?

Working together is essential if we are to solve the issue of misconnections. Your home could be misconnected, and we need you to help by checking the external drainage on your property. Please visit the Connect Right website to find out if your home is connected properly.

This leaflet, which includes easy to understand diagrams, also explains the problem of misconnections: