The water industry has made new commitments to increase transparency and provide real-time data about the releases of sewage into rivers and inland waterways during and after periods of heavy rainfall.
The Storm Overflows Taskforce – made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK – has agreed to set a long term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows as part of efforts to tackle river pollution.
Water companies have also pledged to increase transparency around when and how storm overflows are used, following recommendations from the Taskforce.
Storm overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes.
However climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades.
Water companies will make data available on sewage discharges at bathing sites all year around, meaning surfers, swimmers and other water users can check the latest information, especially after heavy rainfall.
They will also accelerate work to install monitoring devices to create a complete picture of their activity by 2023.
In addition, the Taskforce has agreed with water companies to publish annual monitoring data on their websites about their use of storm overflows so progress in reducing their use can be tracked.
Since 2010, 884 storm overflows have been improved to reduce their environmental impact and frequency of operation, with a further 798 improvements planned to take place by 2025.
MP for Ludlow Philip Dunne, who introduced the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill to Parliament last year said: “I have been shocked to discover the extent of sewage routinely spilled in our rivers. Poor water quality has a very damaging impact on aquatic species which depend on clean rivers and risks healthy enjoyment of our rivers by the public.
“I am really pleased this government has recognised that this has got to change. I am delighted the Minister has responded so quickly to COVID restrictions interrupting progress of my Private Members Bill by agreeing to work with me to develop measures to improve water quality across England.”