Misconnections: an invisible threat to our local waterways

If your home is incorrectly plumbed, your untreated wastewater could be flowing straight into nearby watercourses without you even knowing. Here’s what we’re doing to spot these hidden risks to river and bathing water quality – and how you can check whether your home is connected correctly.

What are misconnections?

Unless you live in an area with combined sewers, most properties built in the last 100 years are connected to two separate types of sewers:

  • Wastewater from kitchens, bathrooms and household appliances should be linked to the foul sewer, which carries wastewater to a treatment works.
  • Rainwater from roofs and gutters should be directed into the surface water sewer, which are designed to prevent flooding by channelling rainwater into local waterways.

Unfortunately, these connections sometimes get mixed up. When a home is misconnected, wastewater from the property is directed into the surface water drain where it enters rivers and seas untreated – carrying along toxins from washing powder and household cleaning products.

Perhaps the developer made an error when the property was first built. Maybe an appliance was plumbed incorrectly during a DIY project. Possibly, the necessary checks were skipped when an extension was being made. Whatever the reason, misconnections can be devastating for the health of local watercourses and wildlife.

What we’re doing

Our region includes 700 miles of coastline which plays an important part in the local economy. Bathing waters in our region have achieved their highest ever ratings in Defra’s Bathing Water summer sampling regime.

We’re committed to protecting these coastal waters to ensure they remain of the highest quality. That’s why we spend £180,000 a year to fund the work of our six-person strong Misconnections team. They exist solely to trace and tackle misconnected properties in our region – particularly near bathing water locations.

The team uses a host of techniques, including installing cages to check what’s flowing through our surface water sewers. If local properties are connected correctly, these cages should only catch things like leaves or debris from roads. If they contain evidence of toilet or washing machine residue, we know a misconnection needs to be investigated.

The team then sets to work tracing the pollution to its source. Once the property is identified, they’ll work with the owner to solve the issue – and will return to check action has been taken. If they find the problem is unresolved, they can escalate the matter to local authority to take enforcement steps enforcement action. That’s how serious misconnections can be.

How to check your home

At this point, you may wonder how you’d know if your property is misconnected. Property deeds usually show where the foul and surface water sewers are located. However, asking some these quick questions could give you an idea whether your home is correctly connected:

  • Was the property built after 1920?
    Consider the age of your property and any surrounding properties. If it was built before 1920, it probably has combined drainage where both wastewater and rainwater share a sewer that drains to a nearby treatment works. If it was built later, it’s likely to have separate sewers.
  • Have any changes been made to the original drainage?
    Check the number of manholes and where the drains run. New manholes may mean the drainage has been altered. Where necessary, seek professional help to find out where drainage is going and test with dyes if needed.
  • Have any extensions or alterations been made, such as a new kitchen, bathroom or toilet?
    When building alterations are carried out, sinks, baths, showers, toilets and appliances can be plumbed incorrectly into the nearest available pipe or drain.
  • Is there a macerator toilet pump installed?
    These can discharge anywhere and may easily be wrongly connected into surface water drains and cause pollution.
  • Are any pipes connected to a rainwater downpipe on the side of the property? Look at the outside of your property. Check all roof downpipes and guttering for any additional connections on all floors.

You can also visit connectright.org for more tips on how to check your property for a potential misconnection.