Environment Bill: New legal duties on water companies to tackle sewage discharges

During wet weather, storm overflows act to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rain and release diluted wastewater into rivers

The Big Zero report

New legal duties on water companies and the government will be included in the Environment Bill to tackle sewage discharges into rivers and help protect the waterways.

During wet weather, storm overflows act to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rain and release diluted wastewater into rivers.

However, their use has increased in recent years as climate change has led to greater rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) believes reducing the reliance of water companies on storm overflows is important to help cut pollution in waterways.

The three new measures that will be aded to the Environment Bill to drive changes needed to improve the water environment include a duty on government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows, to report to Parliament on the progress on implementing the plan and a duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “The concerning issue of untreated sewage in our rivers demands urgent action. The inclusion of these measures in the Environment Bill will ensure steps are taken to tackle unacceptable levels of pollution.

“While we cannot get rid of storm overflows overnight, we are working hard to accelerate progress in this area to protect our precious water environment and wildlife.

“In addition to new legislation, the recently established Storm Overflows Taskforce has agreed to set a long term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows and has already taken steps to improve monitoring and transparency, which is crucial.”

Through the Taskforce, water companies have committed to increase the number of overflows they will improve over the next five years.

More than 800 overflows are to be investigated and nearly 800 improved between 2020 and 2025.

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