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Defra sets up a taskforce to tackle raw sewage discharges into England’s water bodies

  • Defra sets up taskforce to tackle raw sewage discharges into England’s water bodies

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has established a new taskforce to address the problem of untreated sewage getting discharged into water bodies as a result of storm water overflows, reports The Guardian.

Last July, an analysis of spills from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in England showed this type of discharges to release pressure on the sewer system may be more frequent than thought, with more than 200,000 instances in 2019 via inland CSOs.

The Environment Agency is responsible for permitting the release of untreated wastewater after extreme weather events, to prevent the sewer system from flooding homes. But CSO spill data show this may have become a routine practice, rather than something exceptional during extreme rainfall, akin to a “licence to pollute”.

In response to the issue, this week Defra set up a taskforce which involves the Environment Agency, Ofwat, and Water UK representing water companies, with the purpose of reducing the frequency and volumes of sewage discharges from storm overflows.

According to Defra, the minister of environment Rebecca Pow met with the chief executives of 15 water companies and she urged them to take stronger action to protect the environment and water supplies, including storm overflows, chalk streams and the amount of water leaked from pipes.

Sewage discharges are a threat to chalk streams, unique streams found mostly in England that are fed from underground chalk aquifers and springs. The environment minister will organise a summit on chalk streams next month. The minister said: “This country’s green recovery from coronavirus can only happen if water companies step up and play their part.”

Also, conservative MP Philip Dunne, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, is campaigning to change the law and stop water companies from discharging untreated sewage into water bodies.

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