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Largest programme on storm sewage discharges in history

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River through green banks and trees

There has been coverage today (Thursday) of new plans unveiled by the Government to tackle the number of discharges of untreated sewage by water companies.

The consultation on the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan outlines a step change in how water companies tackle the number of discharges of untreated sewage, which the Government and the public have made clear are completely unacceptable.

Under the proposed plan:

  • By 2035, the environmental impacts of 3,000 storm overflows (75%) affecting our most important protected sites will have been eliminated;
  • By 2035, there will be 70% fewer discharges into bathing waters –(using last year’s figures that would have equated to 4,620 fewer discharges into our bathing waters during the bathing season;)
  • By 2040, approximately 160,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated (40% of the total); and by 2050, approximately 320,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated (80% of the total).
  • The consultation outlines how water companies are expected to achieve these targets, including mapping their sewer networks, reducing surface water connections and engaging in long-term collaborative planning.

The Government is already taking action to tackle storm sewage discharges. Between 2020 and 2025, £3.1 billion is being invested specifically in storm overflow improvements. This includes £1.9 billion investment on the Thames Tideway Tunnel super sewer, with the rest used to undertake over 800 investigations and over 800 improvement schemes to storm overflows.

However, the Government’s storm overflows plan represents a step-change and goes much further, and will see the largest investment and delivery programme to tackle storm sewage discharges in the history of the water sector.

The targets set out in the consultation also deliver on the commitments made in the Environment Act and provide certainty around what government expects water companies to plan for and deliver.

 Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

“We are the first government to set out our expectation that that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. Today, we are setting specific targets to ensure that those storm overflows are used only in exceptional circumstances – delivering on our Environment Act and building on wider work on water quality.”

The consultation is open from today for six weeks, until 12 May.

Ambition of targets

Some of today’s coverage has questioned the ambition and speed at which we intend to meet our targets.

These targets will push all water companies to go further and faster. The targets eliminate the ecological harm of overflows, protect bathers and other recreational water users and set clear limits across the country when overflows can be used. Our targets ensure water companies need to fix overflows causing the most ecological harm first and protect our most sensitive and important sites.

Our new targets will generate the most significant investment and delivery programme ever undertaken by water companies to protect people and the environment and will revolutionise our sewer system. Results will not be achieved overnight. However, we will be monitoring the business planning of water companies to achieve these targets, and if it is possible to go further and faster while balancing the cost to consumers, we will not hesitate to do so – we have made this clear to the water industry.

We want the best solutions with the most benefits to be taken forward, and these will require careful planning by the industry. The targets are ambitious, and time bound, allowing for water industry to deliver traditional solutions and bring forward innovative nature-based solutions where appropriate.

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  1. Comment by Ashley Smith posted on

    In 2018 the Environment Agency instructed the water industry to classify and rectify its unsatisfactory storm overflows of which there are many - the illegal ones to start with. It was to be done generally within 3 years. The industry ignored the regulator and now the government has effectively extended the timescale to 32 years and calls it progress.
    The 800 ' investigations' - most started about 4 years ago and none have achieved anything other than the protection of water industry profit. That process is expected by the industry (industry source) to take between 10 and 15 years.

  2. Comment by Ray Walton posted on

    ‘…evidence over the last three years has shown water companies are routinely using the overflows to discharge untreated sewage rather than treating it’.
    “The level of public outrage on the sewage pollution scandal continues to grow by the day, yet we’re seeing a consultation today that provides us with targets and timeframes decades away,” he said.

    My view.
    SPILLS = ‘DELIBERATE’ UNTREATED RAW SEWAGE DISCHARGES - to ‘fraudulently’ profiteer company shareholders and CEO’s etc…
    by ripping off the public via their ‘compulsory’ monthly sewage bills… who pay for sewage treatment to make it environmentally, fish, bird, wildlife and public health ‘SAFE’.

    The Environment Agency (the UK Govt appointed pollution regulators) are/were the profit dividend Shareholders in all ‘10’ of these Serial Criminally Convicted, Foreign Owned, Privatised Water & Sewage Company Polluters in England and Wales. How much have the EA earned over the years from authorising and permitting Untreated Raw Sewage Pollution? See below.

    How many of these destructive discharges were EA/DEFRA etc. authorised and legalized?
    The EA investments in the serial polluting criminally convicted Water & Sewage Companies could open it up to legal challenges if they were to grant permits to companies in which its pension pot has a financial interest', Which it Does. Simple really.
    United Utilities recorded the most raw sewage spillages into English rivers in 2021
    United Utilities 81,588
    Yorkshire 70,062
    Severn Trent 59,684
    South West 42,484
    Northumbrian 36,483
    Wessex 23,532
    Anglian 21,351
    Southern 19,077
    Thames Water 14,713
    Welsh Water (in England) 3,567

    Read the fuller story…Click on the photo link…

  3. Comment by Jacqui Watson posted on

    I asked someone from Southern Water what their plans were and he said to make large holding tanks for storm overflows. But surely a major problem is that the capacity to deal with sewage has not been increased in line with the demands put upon the system by building a lot of new houses in Kent. He said that they couldn’t increase sewage ‘farms’ because no one wants to live next door to one. If they are needed they are needed whatever individuals might want and a solution must be found. Monitoring businesses plans is fine as long as it’s not just paper that is being looked at but the actual construction etc too.

  4. Comment by John W. Baxter posted on

    Water companies have invested heavily in generating biogas from waste water and processing the solid waste for return to land in the past.....probably at the expense of discharge quality and quantity to water courses.
    The U.K. government via rocs payments has enhanced the incomes of overseas investors in our water companies, but feeble government low Environment targets have continued to allow so many damaging discharges to our water courses at the expense of our health and environmental enjoyment.
    When can we have more storm retention capacity at waste water sites?...more on call support staff in times of storms to cope with additional flows and more real time accountability of discharge quality from pump stations and waste water treatment works. It really is overdue that we spend more dividend payments on improvement to discharges .Time is up!.