Government releases plan to tackle sewage discharges

A file photo shows untreated sewage flowing into a river

A file photo shows untreated sewage flowing into a river

The government has published a plan to tackle sewage in England’s rivers and the sea.

It promises the “strictest targets ever” to “protect people and the environment.”

And water companies will be required to deliver the “largest infrastructure programme in water company history.”

Last week pollution warnings were in place on nearly 50 beaches after heavy rainfall led to water companies discharging untreated sewage.

Water companies discharged untreated sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times in 2020, according to official figures.

The Environment Act 2021 legally obliged the government to publish the plan.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “Between now and 2025 water companies will be investing £3bn, in order to reduce the use of storm overflows by 25%.

“There are 15,000 storm overflows, we have had them since the Victorian era, they’ve always been there as an emergency release valve when you get extreme rainfall events, but they are starting in some cases to be used far too often.”

The government’s plan will require water companies to invest £56 billion over 25 years into improving infrastructure. It also states that, by 2035, water companies will have to “improve all storm overflows discharging into or near every designated bathing water; and improve 75% of overflows discharging to high priority nature sites.”

Mr Eustice said it was “regrettable” that the issue hadn’t been addressed over the last 40 or 50 years.

He said there would be a “modest increase in water bills over time” as a result of the action announced.

“There will be no change to water bills until at least 2025, and between 2025 and 2030, the average annual rise in water bills will be about £12.”

Mr Eustice said it would be a “price people would be willing to pay.”

“This is the first government to take action to end the environmental damage caused by sewage spills. We will require water companies to protect everyone who uses our water for recreation, and ensure storm overflows pose no threat to the environment.”

There is a major ongoing investigation into how all wastewater companies manage their wastewater treatment works by the Environment Agency and the industry regulator Ofwat.

Enforcement cases are being pursued against South West Water, Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water.

Public anger over the continuing discharges has been building over recent weeks as reports of sewage pollution have increased.

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