Government about to announce abandoning the principle of a legal target for river health, and postponing a deadline for agricultural run-off reduction by three years (from 2037 to 2040).
On sewage discharge: “investment in the infrastructure that makes such discharges unnecessary is the answer, and rules must be toughened to force the industry’s mostly foreign owners to take the necessary steps”.
As Owl reported in the past few days, South West Water is making a major investment in the Budleigh area, not to increase sewage treatment capacity, but to renew the sewer overflow into the sea at the Otter Head.
Why are Budleigh residents getting hammered daily?
Campers please don’t all flush at once.
Delaying pollution controls will only lead to harm
England’s rivers are in a shocking, filthy state, with every single one failing the last set of quality tests carried out in 2019 under EU rules. This is bad for biodiversity, above all the fish, mammals such as otters, and other species that live in rivers. And it is bad for people, to whom the depletion of nature poses an increasingly grave global threat. There could be no good time for the UK government to announce that it is abandoning the principle of a legal target for river health, and postponing a deadline for agricultural run-off reduction by three years (from 2037 to 2040). It is difficult to imagine a worse moment for such an announcement than the final week of a crucial UN biodiversity conference (Cop15) in Montreal.
Yet this is the decision that is expected to be made by the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, in the next few days. And while some farmers may welcome the further license to pollute waterways that they are likely to be granted, others, along with civil society groups and naturalists, will oppose what amounts to environmental negligence. The Conservatives’ atrocious record in office over the past 12 years with regard to water has recently come under sharpened scrutiny. Any further weakening of regulation can only strengthen the sense that a vital natural resource has been catastrophically mismanaged – while the companies that control it have been enabled to enrich themselves, and their investors.
Sewage dumped by water companies is the main cause of pollution off England’s coasts – including popular beaches and protected areas. Investment in the infrastructure that makes such discharges unnecessary is the answer, and rules must be toughened to force the industry’s mostly foreign owners to take the necessary steps. Ofwat, which regulates the private water companies, is a key player here. Its record of inaction led the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Tim Farron, to describe it as a “powerless accomplice”. But ministers are also to blame for the cuts to Environment Agency budgets that led to fewer and weaker water quality checks.
Agriculture, and particularly animal waste known as slurry, is the main source of inland water pollution. It affects nearly two-thirds of rivers, while the water sector supplying homes affects half. This problem requires a different solution, involving changes to land management and use. Challenging though this may be, putting it off will only make matters worse, especially since droughts and other extreme weather are expected to exacerbate the difficulties. The message from scientists is that the environmental crisis could not be more urgent, and wealthy countries like the UK should lead the way with policies geared towards sustainability.
The government has already missed its own target date for the new regulations, which was at the end of October. It remains to be seen what – if anything – the recently created post-Brexit watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, is going to do about this. But the overall situation is clear. Having promised that Brexit would usher in a new era of environmental regulation tailored for the UK, ministers are failing dismally to live up to their own prospectus.