Water companies to publish annual data on storm overflow operation under new law

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Measures to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows will be put into law, the government has confirmed today.

During wet weather, storm overflows act to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rain and release diluted wastewater into rivers.

However, their use has increased in recent years as climate change has led to greater rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth.

Reducing the reliance of water companies on storm overflows is important to help cut pollution in waterways, and earlier this year the Government announced it was working with Philip Dunne MP on shared ambitions to tackle high levels of sewage in rivers, following the introduction of his Private Member’s Bill in 2020.

This ambition has now been turned into action, with the government confirming that a number of key policies will be made law.

This will create three key duties to oversee some of the changes needed to improve water environment:

  • A duty on government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows.
  • A duty on government to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the plan.
  • A duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.

This builds on the work already underway by the Storm Overflows Taskforce, set up in September 2020 to bring together government, the water industry, regulators and environmental NGOs to accelerate progress in this area.

Through the Taskforce, water companies have committed to increase the number of overflows they will improve over the next five years.

This means a further 800 overflows will be investigated and nearly 800 improved between 2020 and 2025.

The government expects to consult on potential options for ways to eliminate harm from storm overflows to take forward later this year.

Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow and Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, commented on the announcement: “I introduced my Private Members Bill to help tackle the scourge of sewage discharges polluting our waterways.

“Due to the impact of the pandemic on the Parliamentary timetable, I have been working to encourage the Government to adopt the key principles of my Bill.

“I am delighted that the Environment Minister has honoured her pledge to seek a legislative route to give effect to the main objectives: from the Government updating Parliament on the progress it is making in reducing sewage discharges, to placing a duty on water companies to publish storm overflow data.

“Today’s commitment by the Government means all the hard work with campaigners and colleagues in Parliament over the past year is not wasted and we shall work in the next session to find the best route to turn this into statute.

“The Environmental Audit Committee is also holding an inquiry at present into measures to improve the water quality of our rivers, so I am also looking forward to the recommendations which emerge being able to inform the next stage of the Government’s work to improve water quality.”