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Rivers: Sewage

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 59100, tabled on 19 October 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent steps his Department has taken to help ensure untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers in Enfield North constituency.

Answered on

27 October 2021

We have made it crystal clear to water companies that they must reduce significantly sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority. The draft Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat sets out our expectation that companies work to significantly reduce storm overflows for the first time and we expect funding to be approved for water companies to be able to do so. We have announced that we’ll put that instruction on a statutory footing with a new duty on water companies to reduce progressively impacts of sewage discharges.

We are also already taking action through the Environment Bill and have introduced a range of new legally binding commitments on both water companies and Government to tackle this issue.

The Environment Bill includes the following new duties directly on water companies to:

  • publish statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, for the first time, setting out how they will reduce overflows, as well as detailing other improvements, and provides the power for Government to direct companies if these plans are inadequate;
  • monitor water quality up and downstream of areas potentially affected by discharges;
  • publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis;
  • publish near real time information - within 1 hour - on the operation of storm overflows.

We are also taking action to challenge underperforming companies and are working hard to drive up monitoring and transparency to tackle non-compliance and pollution incidents, including through the work of the Storm Overflows Taskforce.

The Storm Overflows Taskforce, launched last year, is continuing to push forward work with industry, and we won’t hesitate to hold companies to account where necessary. Earlier this year Southern Water was handed a record-breaking £90 million fine, and Thames Water was fined £4 million and £2.3 million for separate incidents.

Furthermore, the Government has committed to publish a plan next September to set out the detail of how we expect water companies to achieve significant reductions in sewage discharges and the harm they cause.