Growing concern about the discharge of sewage into Norfolk's rivers and seas has prompted council leaders to summon water company bosses to explain what is being done to stop it.

Winter swimmers were recently urged to avoid beaches at Gorleston and Heacham because of pollution in the water.

And Anglian Water bosses have been called to appear in front of worried Norfolk county councillors to explain why sewage discharges keep happening - and what the company is doing to prevent them.

Eastern Daily Press: Steve Morphew, who chairs Norfolk County Council's scrutiny committeeSteve Morphew, who chairs Norfolk County Council's scrutiny committee (Image: Archant)

County Hall's Labour group leader Steve Morphew, who chairs the scrutiny committee where the matter will be discussed, said: “Sewage discharges from storm overflows have been high profile and are thoroughly unpleasant.

"Recent events need to be taken into account, as this is not just historic stuff - it's still going on.

"This gives us the chance to get to grips with why it is happening and what is being done to prevent it in future.

"It has to be resolved quickly and measures put in place to ensure future developments don't create extra pressure that leads to more incidents because the system can't cope."

Eastern Daily Press: Gorleston's beachGorleston's beach (Image: ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC © 2008)

Worried county councillors called on Anglian Water representatives to answer questions after concerns about sewage and storm overflows were raised during a meeting about Norfolk flooding last year.

Recent years have seen a growing focus on 'combined sewer overflows', also known as storm overflows.

When there is too much water in pipes, such as after heavy rain, safety release valves open to reduce the pressure, releasing excess, untreated, water directly into rivers or the sea.

Permits, issued by the Environment Agency, allow that to happen in certain conditions.

But last summer, the newly formed Office for Environmental Protection, launched an investigation into the regulation, amid concerns companies were breaching permits.

Anglian Water says its 1,552 storm overflow locations in the region it covers have had environmental permits issued.

According to data compiled by the Rivers Trust, there were 3,123 Anglian Water spills in Norfolk in 2021. The 2022 figures are not yet available.

Questions are likely to be tabled about Gorleston beach - recently named by Tripadvisor as the best in the UK - which had high pollution levels recently - potentially because of storm overflow discharge into the River Yare, which enters the sea nearby.

Anglian Water had said there "may have been a short combined storm overflow release" because of heavy rain and investigations were under way.

Eastern Daily Press: Water quality at Heacham has been rated as poorWater quality at Heacham has been rated as poor (Image: Chris Bishop)

Another issue councillors are likely to quiz Anglian Water over is the quality of bathing water at Heacham.

That has been rated 'poor' in 2021 and 2022, with campaign group Surfers Against Sewage recently reiterating a warning for people not to swim there.

Anglian Water says research showed birds feeding on the mudflats was the main source of contamination, but that it has taken action to "optimise" South End Road pumping station at Hunstanton to reduce storm-related discharge.

And it says, while Heacham Water Recycling Centre does not have a storm overflow, treated effluent is disinfected with ultraviolet light to remove harmful bacteria and viruses.

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: "Protecting, restoring and improving our region’s environment is at the heart of our business, and we take this responsibility incredibly seriously.

"We recognise storm overflows are no longer the right solution when sewers become overloaded with rainwater.

"Between 2020 and 2025, we’re reinvesting more than £200m to reduce storm spills across the east of England and as part of our Get River Positive commitment we’ve promised that storm overflows will not be the reason for unhealthy watercourses in our region by 2030.

"And we’re working towards eliminating all serious pollutions by 2025."

Eastern Daily Press: Environment secretary Therese CoffeyEnvironment secretary Therese Coffey (Image: Press Association)

Environment secretary Therese Coffey last month called for water and sewerage firms to provide an improvement plan for every storm outflow.