The Environment Bill will now include legal duties to tackle sewage discharges into rivers, first announced by Defra in March. Those duties are:
- a duty on government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows;
- a duty on government to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the plan; and
- a duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.
Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “I’m really pleased that we now have a clear legal mechanism to enable the reporting and planning to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows. Of course, this alone will not solve the problem of sewage pollution in rivers – publishing annual data, for example, will simply make the extent of the problem clearer. However, it is a crucial first step in the right direction.”
Christine Colvin, Director for Partnerships & Communications at The Rivers Trust, said: “This plan to tackle the scourge of sewage pollution in our rivers cannot come soon enough, and we urge water companies to be extra diligent as we approach a summer in which we are likely to see more people enjoying our rivers. The potential exposure to raw sewage is a risk, and working collaboratively to reduce this risk will harvest a wealth of benefits to people and wildlife.”
In recent years, The Rivers Trust has campaigned in earnest for an end to sewage pollution in rivers and lakes, working in collaboration with other eNGOs as part of the #EndSewagePollution campaign, as well as with Philip Dunne MP on the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill. The Trust also sits on Defra’s Storm Overflows Taskforce, which brings key stakeholders together to address the issue of sewage pollution from storm overflows. The landmark Sewage Map, created by The Rivers Trust, is the first of its kind to make Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) for storm overflows accessible to the public, highlighting the risks of sewage pollution in rivers and helping them to make an informed decision on using rivers recreationally.
Following the publication of the latest EDM data, The Rivers Trust called for:
- Investigations of the 20% of overflows which spill over 40 times per year;
- Individuals to find out where overflows are spilling into the rivers they use and highlight to their MPs where > 40 overspills occur;
- An acceleration of investment, in addition to the current £1.1 billion planned for improvements into storm and CSO infrastructure, particularly nature-based solutions for storm water;
- Increased consistency in reporting of storm overflow data.
We hope today’s announcement signals the beginning of significant change in addressing sewage pollution, and bring about our vision of wild, healthy, natural rivers, valued by all.