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Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 93004, tabled on 14 December 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he plans to take in response to the failure by water companies to significantly reduce storm overflows.

Answered on

22 December 2021

The current failure of water companies to adequately reduce sewage discharges is unacceptable and we have made clear that much more must be done to protect our rivers and tackle this issue. We will not hesitate to take further action if needed to deliver our commitments in this area.

We're the first Government to take steps to address this by setting an expectation on water companies to significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows through the draft Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat. We have enshrined this expectation in legislation as a new duty in the Environment Act.

This world-leading Act includes a raft of measures to protect and restore our water environment. The following key duties have been made law:

  • a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and their adverse impact, and report to Parliament on progress.
  • a requirement for Government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and the costs and benefits of those actions.
  • a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.
  • a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real time information on the operation of storm overflows.
  • a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
  • a new duty directly on water companies to secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from storm overflows.
  • a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.
  • a power of direction for the Government to direct water companies in relation to the actions in these Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans. We will not hesitate to use this power of direction if plans are not good enough.

More information on ambition and timescales will be provided during the upcoming price review period - the Government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency all have roles to play in clarifying this detail. We expect to issue guidance to water companies early in 2022. We have also been clear the statutory plan legislated for in the Environment Act is the right place to set our guiding principles to reduce harm from storm overflows and this will be consulted on in Spring 2022.

The recently published Storm Overflows Evidence Project considers a wide range of policies and scenarios to reduce storm overflows. It is right that we consider the findings carefully to achieve the maximum benefits for the environment and human health whilst minimising the impact on the public's water bills.