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Storm overflows discharge raw sewage into English waters 372,000 times in 2021

  • Storm overflows discharge raw sewage into English waters 372,000 times in 2021

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New data from the Environment Agency (EA) in England shows water companies discharged raw sewage to rivers 372,533 times in 2021, informs The Guardian. The data corresponds to those overflows which have event duration monitors in place, which are 89% of the total. The number is slightly lower than in 2020, when the number of spill events was more than 400,000.

The 2021 data was published at the same time as the UK government starts public consultation on the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, “a step change in how water companies tackle the number of discharges of untreated sewage”. This is a long-standing challenge that has drawn attention from campaigners, MPs and the public at large.

In November 2021 the Environment Agency and Ofwat launched an investigation into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at sewage treatment works, after water companies admitted they could be releasing unpermitted sewage discharges. The EA informs in a recent update that it is now analysing 140 million pieces of data provided by companies in early 2022, pertaining to 2200 sewage treatment works spanning all water and sewerage companies in England. Subsequent phases may continue throughout 2022 and into 2023.

The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan sets up time-bound targets for water companies to eliminate the environmental impact of storm overflows and limit their use, details how companies will be expected to achieve the targets, and outlines wider options to reduce the strain on the sewer system. 40% of discharges should be eliminated by 2040, and 80% by 2050.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We are the first government to set out our expectation that that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. Today, we are setting specific targets to ensure that those storm overflows are used only in exceptional circumstances – delivering on our Environment Act and building on wider work on water quality.”

Plan critics, including the Rivers Trust, Surfers Against Sewage, Wildlife and Countryside Link, have criticized the lack of urgency in the plan, with targets and timeframes that are decades away.

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