Water Industry News

Water Firms Urged To Do More To Reduce Storm Overflow Usage

Industry regulator Ofwat has called on water companies across England and Wales to take further action to reduce the use of storm overflows, following concerns being expressed about the increased use of these facilities in recent years and the impact that this has on biodiversity, waterways and local communities.


David Black, the organisation’s new interim chief executive, is urging suppliers to build on the progress that has already been made on other fronts by focusing on meeting the challenge of storm overflow usage.


Ofwat itself recently approved £1.2 billion of investment to reduce the usage of the overflows and it is now looking for specific assurances that companies are monitoring performance closely, using the appropriate data and providing the right check and challenge on stormflow use.


During wet weather, these overflows are used to prevent sewers from becoming overloaded and this can potentially lead to wastewater making its way into rivers.


Mr Black observed that while looking after rivers and waterways around the country is a complicated multi-sector issue, it is apparent that the strides the sector has made with regards to other environmental concerns are not evident in relation to storm overflows.


Rebecca Pow, environment minister, made further comments, saying: “I have made it very clear to water companies that they must improve their environmental performance – with a particular need for reducing sewage discharges from storm overflows.


“To this end we have added new legally-binding obligations on water companies and government in the environment bill to tackle pollution in rivers.”


And Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, further added that water companies are legally obliged to monitor and report spill data from storm overflows and any failure in this regard is an offence.


“Water companies are a valued part of the Storm Overflows Taskforce which has set the target to eliminate harm from storm overflows. However, we know from our monitoring that they still have a long way to go to on environmental performance and to reduce reliance on storm overflows,” he said.


Recent figures from the Environment Agency revealed that in 2020 water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers around England more than 400,000 times. The organisation did say that this increase – up from the 293,000 seen in 2019 – was down to a rise in the number of monitoring stations in operation.


Last year, the Storm Overflows Taskforce was set up to drive progress in reducing discharges from overflows, with water suppliers pleading to increase improvements in more facilities over the coming five years. An additional 800 are due to be investigated and almost 800 improved between 2020 and 2025.


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