The Department of Environment (Defra) has published proposals aimed at significantly reducing the discharge of raw sewage through stormwater overflows to protect public health and curb the environmental damage it causes
Hundreds of thousands of raw sewage were dumped into England’s rivers and seas last year, shocking new figures show.
The Environment Agency released monitoring data showing raw sewage was dumped into rivers and coasts 372,533 times last year, for a total discharges of 2,667,452 hours.
Storm surges bring untreated sewage into the seas and rivers to prevent sewer systems from overflowing, for example after heavy rainfall.
A growing population and an increase in extreme weather events caused by climate change have increased pressure on England’s sewage system, much of which is due to aging Victorian infrastructure, increasing the frequency of discharges.
The Department of Environment (Defra) has published proposals aimed at significantly reducing the discharge of raw sewage through stormwater overflows to protect public health and curb the environmental damage it causes.
The government has released what it says is the biggest storm sewage discharge program in history after pressure from activists, MPs and the public to do more on the matter.
Under the plans, water companies in England would need to meet targets to eliminate the environmental impacts of 3,000 storm weir outlets affecting the country’s key protected areas by 2035.
There is a target to reduce discharges to bathing water by 70% by 2035 and another to eliminate 160,000 wastewater overflows or 40% of the total by 2040 and reduce them by 80% or 320,000 discharges by 2050.
The consultation outlines how water companies will meet the targets, including mapping sewer networks and reducing connections from surface water runoff to sewers, and how the government will hold companies to account that do not meet expectations.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We are the first Government to express our expectation that water companies must take action to significantly reduce storm flooding.
“Today we are setting specific targets to ensure these storm weirs are only used in exceptional circumstances – to implement our Environmental Code and to build on broader water quality work.”
The Environment Agency’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, said: “Water companies need to go further and faster to address the damage caused by storm surges, so these targets, which aim to drastically reduce the number of harmful discharges, are a welcome development.”
Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: “The separation of waste water and drinking water is one of the greatest public health achievements of the last 200 years.
“Discharges of raw sewage, including from storm overflows, into waters used by the public should be an exceptionally rare occurrence and we must take steps to significantly reduce it.”
Philip Dunne, Chair of Parliament’s Committee on Environmental Auditing and a Tory MP, hailed the plans as “a fundamental change in policy on wastewater”.
“With greater accountability and responsibility on water companies to clean up their actions, there could now be light at the end of our Victorian pipe system.
“We have no illusions that the scale of the challenge is significant, but when executives are paid well and utility bills are rising, consumers expect and demand more.”
Hugo Tagholm, executive director of campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, slammed the water companies after releasing data on discharges in 2021, saying the government’s plans have “targets and timeframes that are decades away”.
“The water industry certainly needs to be compelled to act faster, with greater urgency, to address its pitiful pollution record that is helping to devastate our rivers and shorelines,” he said, urging swimmers, surfers and water lovers to act vigorously on the advice.
Stuart Singleton-White, director of campaigns at Angling Trust, said the number of pollution incidents in 2021 was little changed from the 400,000 a year earlier.
He said: “These figures from the Environment Agency show that water companies continue to abuse our rivers.
“They were released on the same day the government launches its consultation on how to deal with storm overflow discharges.
“If another 372,500 spills on top of the 400,000 spills in 2020 don’t call for immediate action, then I’d like to know what does.
“We cannot wait until 2050 to solve this problem. Our rivers are dying before our eyes.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/raw-sewage-dumped-english-rivers-26605004 Raw sewage dumped 372,000 times into English rivers and seas in 2021