Sewage pollution: Whom do you believe?

This week Owl has posted two articles critical of the government response to tackling sewage pollution. “Raw sewage in rivers to go unchecked”; and “Water giants should be made to pay for spilling sewage”.

In Monday’s edition of the Western Morning News, Defra minister Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane claimed that the government was “cracking down on those water companies that are not playing their part in delivering the clean water that the people of this country want to see”.

“We’ll crack down on sewage pollution” Minister tells WMN enforcement is a priority

ENVIRONMENT Minister Rebecca Pow has vowed to get tough on the pollution of our rivers and coastal waters and ensure water companies clean up their act when it comes to sewage discharges.

Writing in today’s WMN, Ms Pow said water quality was a top priority for the Government, which was “cracking down on those water companies that are not playing their part in delivering the clean water that the people of this country want to see”.

She argued the South West, like many parts of the country, “has long suffered from an excessive and unacceptable use of storm overflows”, and added: “I have said time and again that the amount of sewage discharge by water companies into our rivers is unacceptable. They need to raise their game and those that do not meet expectations will be held to account.”

The Government says it has reinforced its commitment to taking tough action to improve water quality. Under its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, out for consultation, water companies will face strict limits on when they can use storm overflows and must eliminate the harm any sewage discharge causes to the environment.

Water firms are investing £3.1billion in storm overflow improvements by 2025.

Since 2015 the Environment Agency has brought 48 prosecutions against water companies, securing fines of over £137 million. Last year, the Environment Agency and Ofwat launched a major investigation based on evidence that some water companies in England may not be complying with their permits, resulting in excess sewage spills into the environment, even in dry periods. Some of the biggest fines were imposed last year – including a record £90 million fine for Southern Water in July for thousands of illegal discharges.

Additional action on water quality includes almost doubling the budget for Catchment Sensitive Farming. Grants support farmers to develop environmentally sustainable methods that limit the contamination of nearby bodies of water from things like manure or pesticides. The new annual budget will be £30 million, up from £16.6 million in 2020-21. This means it will cover 100% of England’s farmland, up from 40% of its current coverage, with every farmer able to access advice and support by March 2023.

Last October, South West Water defended its record after reporting 200 pollution incidents in 2020 and 42,000 discharges of sewage into waterways due to heavy rain.

Chief executive Susan Davy told the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee 210 pollution hotspots had been identified for improvements.