Water droplets on grass web banner
What you need to know
What is wastewater?
Wastewater is exactly that.


Waste from your home or business, it is anything you put down your sink, bath, drains or toilets; it all ends up in our sewer network. That’s why only paper, pee and poo should go down the loo.

What are storm overflows?
Storm overflows are an important part of our wastewater network because they protect customers’ homes and the environment.


They operate automatically as a relief system during heavy rain or storm conditions, or if the sewers are overwhelmed because of more water or blockages, and reduce the risk of flooding to streets, homes, and businesses. As the rainwater runs into and overwhelms the sewer network, the overflows release the storm water into our waterways. A small amount of wastewater from our network can be mixed into this overflow, but, due to the amount of rainwater, it is significantly diluted.


Once rainfall subsides, and levels in the sewer reduce, the system can carry the excess flow allowing the storm overflow to stop automatically. You will see more activity during wetter weather and less during drier weather.


Storm overflows usually work automatically due to the force of gravity. When the sewer, pumping station, or treatment facility reaches its limit or fills up, the overflow is triggered. However, in a few specific places, we use pumps to raise the flow and manage the release of excess water.


The storm overflows are permitted to discharge into the environment by the Environment Agency.


To see how storm overflows work – watch this video.

What are outfalls?
Outfalls from storm overflows are the pipes where these spills physically enter waterways or the sea.


Outfalls can be some distance away from storm overflows and sometimes there is more than one storm overflow connected to an outfall. We have made both outfall and storm overflow locations visible on our map.


When first opening the map the pins that you will see are outfalls. By using the zoom function you can see the outfalls and storm overflows that are connected to them.

What is the map showing me?
This map shows our operating area, which stretches from the Scottish borders, down to North Yorkshire and from the North East coast across to Cumbria.


The pins indicate the location of our storm overflows and outfalls. The colours show, near to real-time, when they spill excess stormwater.


The map is automatically updated by our monitoring equipment. You can use the map to see if overflows are currently discharging into a watercourse, or the date and time of the last recorded discharge.

Is every outfall pipe shown on the map?
We have shown all the outfalls that are associated with our storm overflows on the live map.


These are the ones that have our monitoring equipment installed, which can send us information about discharges.


Surface water outfalls are not shown on our map because they only discharge rainwater. Highway drainage outfalls and private sewer outfalls are not shown on our map because they are owned by third parties.

What is EDM equipment and how often is the map updated?
Event Duration Monitors – or EDMs – are located throughout our wastewater network at all the points where spills are allowed to occur when there is too much wastewater due to excess rainfall, or blockages.


These monitors measure the levels of wastewater in our sewers at either two minute or 15 minute intervals and send that data to us either whenever a spill starts or stops, or once a day when there have been no spills.


This provides us with an almost real-time picture of spills should they occur. This data is also useful for the Environment Agency to monitor the performance of all water companies when it comes to storm overflow activity. These monitors provide us with vital insights to understand how our sewers and treatment works are performing, and more importantly, where improvements are needed.

Why are you spilling wastewater into our rivers and seas?
The sewer system only uses its overflow outlets when there's an overwhelming amount of rain.


The system is designed this way to manage water during intense weather, and when the overflow does happen, the released water is usually quite diluted due to the rain mixing in. It's a last resort, used when other measures can't handle the excess water, like during heavy rainfall or when there's a problem like a power cut or a blockage in the sewer pipes. These overflow points release a mix of rainwater and wastewater into rivers or the sea, but this is a safety measure to prevent streets, homes, and businesses from flooding.

Do storm overflows only operate in wet weather?


Some storm overflows cover large geographical areas so there can be a delay from when the rainwater enters the network, to it discharging to the overflow point as it can take a few days for the rainwater to drain through the system. However, there can be a number of other reasons why you might see a spill, from storms and heavy rain to a blockage in the sewer pipes.

Do blockages cause storm overflows to discharge?
Unfortunately, yes.


Which is why we ask you to 'Bin The Wipe’ -  only flush pee, poo and paper down the toilet - and not to put anything else down the drains that could block our network. This all helps keep our sewers free-flowing and running at capacity. Blockages can also be caused by pouring fats and oils down sinks and can cause ‘fatbergs’ that are costly to remove.


Along with helping to stop the blockages, there are other things you can do to help the environment. For example, using a water meter will let you know how much water you are using and can reduce the amount of wastewater produced as knowing how much water you are using helps you to use water more wisely. Water butts also ease the pressure on the volume of water entering the sewer network and therefore the potential for spills. Gardens are also perfect for soaking up the rain, unlike paving, tarmac, and concrete, which can increase the amount of rainwater runoff. You can help by keeping paving to a minimum, leaving space in your garden for plants, and allowing driveways to drain into borders.

How do we deal with blockages causing a storm overflow to operate?
Our monitoring system alerts us when the level in the storm overflow is about to discharge, this is like an early warning.


We aim to attend site within two hours to deal with any issues or blockages we find, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Most of the time we can clear the blockage, return the storm overflow to normal operation and prevent a discharge to the environment.


There are times when the discharge has happened before we arrive on site and in these cases, we make sure the blockage is cleared and the environment is returned to its normal condition. We also report these incidents to the Environment Agency.


For some storm overflows, it can be difficult to always attend within two hours due to the location of the overflow. We will always get there as soon as possible.

What is Northumbrian Water doing to reduce storm overflow spillages?

In Autumn 2023 we unveiled our new draft Business Plan for 2025-30.


In this plan we want to invest more than £1.7bn to improve the environment, more than ten times the amount we currently spend.


Customers have told us that investment in storm overflows is important and we have ambitious plans to tackle this.


For a long time, storm overflows have been set up this way to prevent homes and businesses from flooding during intense rain. To change this, we would have to make major changes to the sewer system. This involves using nature-based and sustainable drainage solutions like storage ponds that are better for the environment.


We have invested heavily and worked hard on our track record for protecting and enhancing the environment, with some of the highest standards for bathing water quality, the cleanest rivers, and the lowest levels of pollution in England and Wales. Through our Business Plan, we will eliminate serious pollution events, and deliver a 30% reduction in all pollution incidents by reducing the number of spills from storm overflows by about a fifth, focusing on the most vulnerable locations.


We acknowledge that we need to move faster on spills to the environment. We understand the scale of transformation that will be required and are determined to deliver our most ambitious plan yet.

How good is your Environmental Performance?
In the North East, we have some of the lowest levels of pollution and some of the cleanest rivers and beaches in the country.


32 out of 34 of our coastal bathing waters are classified as Excellent or Good and two of our catchments, Northumbrian Rivers and the Solway, have the highest proportion of water bodies by surface area meeting good ecological status in England and Wales. Pollution incidents associated with storm overflows have fallen significantly through our industry-leading monitoring and pollution management approach.


Our Pollution Incident Reduction Plan sets out our plan to meet our ambitious goal to have zero pollutions because of our assets and operations. This continues a significant downward trajectory over the last decade - reducing serious pollutions from 11 in 2011 to just one in 2021, and less serious pollutions from 189 in 2012 to 60 in 2022. Our targets agreed with our regulator, Ofwat, are 69 for 2022, 67 for 2023 and 58 for 2024.


To further enhance the health of our waterways we use nature-based solutions where possible. Working in partnership with The Rivers Trust, we set up The North East Catchments Hub (NECH) in April 2022. We have invested around £300,000 so far in NECH, which has brought resources and expertise into the region to support development of our business plan for 2025-30. The NECH has been working closely with us, other catchment partnerships and environmental groups to identify opportunities for catchment and nature-based solutions. Five workshops were held in summer 2022. Eight schemes were then developed and have been put forward for inclusion in our Business Plan for 2025-30.

Do discharges from storm overflows have an impact on the environment?
The impact of each discharge will vary depending on the location and duration of the discharge.


In most cased the discharges are heavily diluted with rainwater and the Environment Agency reports that, overall, they do less damage to the environment than other sources of pollution.


Our storm discharge map gives information on the status of our storm overflows. It shouldn't be used to determine water quality or if it’s safe to enter the water. This is because many different factors affect the water quality and safety of our rivers.


If you'd like to find out more about river water quality, and water quality sampling in your area, contact the Environment Agency.

Is it only storm overflows that impact my local river or coastal water?
No. Many different factors affect the water quality and safety of our rivers and coastal waters.


It all depends on the surrounding area. For instance, if there is farmland nearby, agricultural land run-off will impact on the health of the river, also any run-off from highway drainage systems is likely to enter the watercourse unrelated to whether a storm overflow is operating.


Storm overflows - pie charts

What other pipes enter our watercourses?

Surface water sewer

Surface water drainage happens when rainwater falls on a property and drains away. These pipes don’t always flow, especially after a long dry period, because they carry rainwater away from roads, houses, and built-up areas. The rainwater should be clean but sometimes it can contain pollution spilled onto a road or tipped down a drain. Sometimes waste pipes from houses are wrongly connected into surface water sewers and that might lead to wastewater going straight into the river instead of going to a wastewater treatment works.



A culverted watercourse (or culvert) is a watercourse that has been channelled through a pipe so that it can be built over. Culverts flow 24 hours a day and they should be clean, but sometimes waste pipes from houses are wrongly connected into surface water sewers or culverts and that might lead to wastewater going straight into the river instead of going to a wastewater treatment works.

Why can I see sometimes see foam on the river near your pipes?
There are some pipes that we call wastewater treatment works outfalls.


These pipes flow 24 hours a day and they return wastewater after it has been treated at a wastewater treatment works. The water must meet strict standards set by our regulators. You might notice a little foam in the river near the outfall because air that goes into the water during the treatment process can be released as bubbles when it joins the watercourse.

My local storm overflow has been discharging for multiple days; what are you doing about it?
When it rains, the excess surface water finds its way to the sewerage network.


Heavy or continued rain can risk overwhelming it. Where the sewer network covers a large area, it takes a while for the water to drain through the sewer network and for storm tanks to be emptied for treatment. For some of our storm overflows that serve a large geographical area, the overflow can continue after the rainfall has stopped.


We work hard every day to make sure wastewater is properly treated before it's discharged into our rivers and streams. We use EDM data, along with other tools and information, to identify and respond to problems.

Is there a health risk to entering water that may have received a sewage discharge from an overflow?
We provide data to the Environment Agency around spills into watercourses.


The EA is responsible for advising if it is safe to enter a watercourse as there are other factors that affect water quality that aren’t our responsibility.


For more info you can take a look at Swimfo to find the latest bathing water quality guidance. 

How long after a discharge can I enter the water?
Please remember to consider all the safety factors when wild swimming in rivers and other watercourses.


Our map  indicates our storm overflow activity, not the other potential hazards in watercourses. With so many different factors affecting the water quality and safety of our watercourses, our data should not be used by itself to determine if it’s safe to enter the water.


Look at Swimfo or Catchment Data Explorer to find the latest bathing water quality guidance.

Do you test the river water regularly?
The EA is responsible for testing river water quality.


If we think a watercourse has been polluted, we'll test the water quality and work with the EA to investigate.

How do I find historical data on discharges?

We measure the frequency and duration of storm overflow operations using Event Duration Monitors (EDMs) and have reported on this since 2020.

Why are some monitors showing as offline?
We'll take a monitor offline to investigate if:

  • It stops communicating with our systems.
  • Produces inaccurate data.
  • We identify an issue with the device.


We aim to get offline monitors working again as soon as we can. This may take some time if the installation location is difficult to get to, for example, in manholes on busy roads.


Monitors may also be offline if significant investment works is taking place on-site, for example, upgrading one of our sewage treatment works.

Do offline monitors record any information?
Some offline monitors do still record discharge activity, but the data isn't reliable.


While a monitor is offline, we won't display any further details about it. The monitor could be broken and unable to record active discharges. Or it could falsely indicate active discharges when there aren't any. We take the monitor offline to investigate exactly what's happened and aim to get it working again as soon as we can.

Why isn't the monitor on the watercourse itself?
The watercourse may include other inputs such as highway drainage, surface water and culverted watercourses.


EDM monitors are normally located at the point of the overflow so the performance of each overflow can be monitored which helps to target required improvements.

Why do some of the pins overlap on the map?
The pins should only overlap when you are zoomed out on the map due to the size of the pins and the distance between them.


When you use the zoom function the pins will then indicate the location of the overflows and outfalls and will not overlap. You will be able to see all the information for the overflow and outfall in the pop-up box. If you think anything isn’t working on the map as it should, please let us know by calling us on

0345 717 1100.

Why isn't my local pumping station showing on the map?
Not all pumping stations have overflows and we have installed monitors on our storm overflows, so only the pumping stations that discharge in storm conditions will have EDM installed.


There will be some locations where sewage escapes due to a breakdown, power failure or blockage. These locations may include pumping stations, which are not currently monitored. We'll be adding more locations to the portal as and when EDM monitors are installed.

Why doesn't my local treatment works appear on your map?
Where sewage treatment works are permitted to discharge storm water, they are shown on our live map.


Some of our sewage treatment works are designed to treat all the flow which arrives at the site. These don't have the ability to discharge storm sewage but are permitted to discharge treated sewage. Some of our smaller treatment works discharge flow to ground, for example from a septic tank, not into rivers.

Are you sure?

Changes are waiting to be saved