Raw sewage in rivers to go unchecked

The volume of raw sewage being dumped into rivers will remain hidden after the government rejected a recommendation by MPs that water companies should be required to measure it.

A spokesman for Water UK, which represents water companies, said meeting the government’s targets for reducing pollution from sewage overflows would “require significant investment”. – Says it all – Owl

Ben Webster www.thetimes.co.uk

The companies must gauge the frequency and length of spills but their “event duration monitors” do not measure the sewage poured into waterways.

Water quality campaigners say volume monitors are essential to reveal the true impact of spills.

The environmental audit committee recommended in a report in January that water companies should be required to install volume monitors to assess discharges. The government response, published today, rejects the recommendation and repeats arguments put forward by water companies that monitoring was difficult and expensive.

Ash Smith, of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP), accused the government of allowing water companies to conceal the extent of discharges.

“Volume monitoring would show the truth about the extent and increase in criminal pollution and underinvestment,” he said. “But the introduction of volume monitors, which exist in every house with a water meter, is determined to be too difficult and too expensive.” Professor Peter Hammond, a WASP campaigner who helped expose illegal spills by water companies, said the industry feared volume monitors could result in fines. His research helped prompt the Environment Agency and Ofwat to launch an inquiry last November into suspected illegal spills by the ten water companies.

The agency said last week its initial analysis “confirmed that there may have been widespread and serious non-compliance with the relevant regulations”. The companies can release sewage into rivers in exceptional circumstances, including when heavy rain overwhelms the network. But sewage was released more than 1,000 times a day on average last year.

The government has also rejected the committee’s recommendations on cutting river pollution caused by the growth in intensive livestock units, typically involving pigs and poultry. The MPs called for a presumption against planning permission for units where they posed a risk to protected rivers.

The committee received evidence that the Wye was being choked by toxic algal blooms that might be caused by manure from intensive chicken farms being spread on farmland.

More than 20 million chickens are reared in giant sheds in the surrounding catchment area. Rebecca Pow, the environment minister, said: “We are setting ambitious targets, delivering on our Environment Act and cracking down on those water companies that are not playing their part in delivering the clean water that people want to see.”

A spokesman for Water UK, which represents water companies, said meeting the government’s targets for reducing pollution from sewage overflows would “require significant investment”.

Analysis of data published last December finds water companies have collectively cut investment in wastewater and sewage networks by almost a fifth since they were privatised.

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