Environmental charity The Rivers Trust say they are “encouraged’ by the announcement that the department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will work closely with MP Philip Dunne, chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, and the Storm Overflows Taskforce to eliminate harm from storm overflows, and increase transparency with regards to their use.
A press release issued by Defra on 22 January committed to compile annual data from water companies on the use of storm overflows into an annual report, as well as to make real-time storm overflow data available year-round for all designated bathing waters. The long-term goal to eliminate harm from sewage discharges is described as a “generational endeavour”.
Meanwhile, a second parliamentary reading of the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, raised in Parliament by Phillip Dunne in partnership with The Rivers Trust #EndSewagePollution Coalition, was scheduled to take place in the House of Commons on Friday 22 January, but has been postponed.
The Bill would amend the Water Industry Act 1991 and place a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers or other inland water bodies. As water quality is a devolved matter, the Bill would only apply to inland waters in England.
Discharges of untreated sewage into rivers and watercourses are currently permitted under certain circumstances. This usually occurs when existing infrastructure is unable to cope with surges in sewage and waste water. This is often caused by additional flows from wet weather. These are known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs).
The Rivers Trust, who have been intensively campaigning for an end to sewage pollution in rivers and lakes over the past two years, say they are “disappointed” that the Bill’s second parliamentary reading has been postponed.
Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “Ending pollution from sewage overflows would be a great boon for people and wildlife. The current level of spills is unacceptable and has contributed to the UK failing to meet water quality targets. The announcement by DEFRA takes an important step towards greater transparency by government and the water companies, and gives better public access to information. However, it falls short of explaining how government will meet the objectives of the task force in the long term. The Bill required progressive improvements in existing infrastructure, revoked the automatic right to connect for new developments and required clear labelling on wet wipes to prevent blockages. These are critical measures to address root-causes of our overwhelmed sewers. We want to see how these issues will be addressed in other legislation.”