Water Industry News

Raw Sewage Discharged Into England’s Rivers 400,000 Times In 2020

New figures from the Environment Agency have revealed that water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers around England over 400,000 times last year, with United Utilities in the north-west having the longest duration of spills over the course of the 12 months, at 726,450 hours.


Chief executive of the agency Sir James Bevan said that the harm water companies are doing to the environment has to come to a stop, adding that his organisation is now actively working with them to make sure that overflows are controlled properly, the BBC reports.


Water utilities are permitted to release sewage into streams and rivers after extreme weather events like prolonged heavy rain, which helps protect against flooding and prevents sewage from backing up into homes and streets.


The Environment Agency says that storm overflows are a necessary part of the sewerage system and not a sight that the system is faulty, but campaigners are keen to see more investment in sewage system capacity to deal with heavy demand, since extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent because of climate change.


The Rivers Trust, which campaigns to protect waterways in England and Wales, described this as a “shocking volume of untreated contaminated wastewater”, adding that it is indicative of the fact that the current strategy and existing infrastructure needs to be radically overhauled.


Discussing the new data showing that the number of spills rose from almost 293,000 in 2019 to 403,000 in 2020, the Environment Agency explained that this is down to an increase in the number of monitoring stations in operation.


Towards the end of last month (March), the government announced that it would be implementing new measures to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows – important to cut the amount of pollution entering the nation’s waterways.


Numerous key policies will be made law, with three main duties established to oversee the changes and improve the UK’s water environment.


These include a duty on the government to publish a plan by September next year to reduce discharges from overflows, as well as a duty to report to Parliament on the progress of implementation, and a duty on water companies themselves to publish annual data on storm overflow operation.


In September last year, a Storm Overflows Taskforce was set up to help drive progress in discharges from overflows, a move that saw water suppliers pledging to increase improvements in more overflows over the next five years, with a further 800 due to be investigated and nearly 800 improved between 2020 and 2025.


Environment minister Rebecca Pow said how important it is to introduce new commitments to improve rivers and reduce the industry’s reliance on storm overflows, essential to protect the environment and the local wildlife.


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