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Inland Waterways: Sewage

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 943, tabled on 12 May 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to reduce the amount of raw sewage being discharged into the UK's waterways.

Answered on

21 May 2021

Tackling the harm caused by sewer overflows is a top priority for this department.

I have met water company CEOs and made clear that the volume of sewage discharged into rivers and other waterways in extreme weather must be reduced.

To achieve this, the new Storm Overflows Taskforce - bringing together the Government, the water industry, regulators and environmental NGOs - has agreed to set a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. The Taskforce is meeting regularly and working on plans to make progress towards that goal, and has commissioned research to gather evidence on the costs, benefits and feasibility of different options.

As announced on 11 May, we are putting forward amendments to the Environment Bill that will help to reduce the harm that storm overflows cause to our waterways. We are introducing new duties that will require the Government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows and to report progress to Parliament on implementing that plan. We are also introducing duties requiring water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis. These legally binding obligations on water companies and the Government will reduce pollution in rivers – protecting wildlife and public health.

Water companies are currently committed in the 5-year business planning period (2020-25) to a significant programme of improvements to the monitoring and management of storm overflows at a cost of around £1.1 billion. This investment includes undertaking 800 investigations and 798 improvement schemes to provide environmental improvements by reducing spills from frequently spilling overflows.