From Defra

A joint industry-government group established last year to tackle river pollution has today (22 January) agreed a new objective to prevent damage from storm overflows.

The Storm Overflows Taskforce – made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK – has agreed to set a long term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. Following recommendations from the Taskforce, water companies will also increase transparency around when and how storm overflows are used. Storm overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes. However climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades.

Water companies have agreed to make real-time data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round, meaning surfers, swimmers and other water users can check the latest information – especially after heavy rainfall. Water companies will also accelerate work to install monitoring devices to create a complete picture of their activity by 2023.

In addition, the Taskforce has agreed with water companies that they will publish annual monitoring data on their websites about their use of storm overflows so that progress in reducing their use can be tracked. The Environment Agency will compile this data into an annual report that is easily accessible to the public.

The Taskforce update comes as the Government confirms it is also working with Philip Dunne MP on our shared ambitions to tackle sewage pollution in our rivers.

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, introduced by Mr Dunne to Parliament last year, has raised awareness of a number of issues associated with storm overflows. The Government has committed to continuing to work with Mr Dunne on the best way to make progress in reducing the harm caused by sewage spilling into our rivers.

Since 2010, 884 storm overflows have been improved to reduce their environmental impact and frequency of operation, with a further 798 improvements planned for the period 2020 – 2025.

Read more here.

Covered in the Guardian.


Rivers Trust press release


The Rivers Trust has been campaigning for an end to sewage pollution in rivers and lakes particularly intensively over the past two years, and worked closely with Philip Dunne MP to draft the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill. Whilst we are disappointed that the Bill’s second parliamentary reading will not happen today, we are encouraged by the announcement that Defra will work closely with Mr Dunne and the Storm Overflows Taskforce to eliminate harm from storm overflows, and increase transparency with regards to their use.

A press release issued by Defra today commits to compile annual data from water companies on the use of storm overflows into an annual report, as well as to making real-time storm overflow data available year-round for all designated bathing waters. The long-term goal to eliminate harm from sewage discharges is described as a generational endeavour.

Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “Ending pollution from sewage overflows would be a great boon for people and wildlife.  The current level of spills is unacceptable and has contributed to the UK failing to meet water quality targets.  Today’s announcement by DEFRA takes an important step towards greater transparency by government and the water companies, and gives better public access to information.  However, it falls short of explaining how government will meet the objectives of the taskforce in the long term.  The Bill required progressive improvements in existing infrastructure, revoked the automatic right to connect for new developments and required clear labelling on wet wipes to prevent  blockages.  These are critical measures to address root-causes of our overwhelmed sewers.  We want to see how these issues will be addressed in other legislation.

“We urge government to take bold decisions after these discussions to make our water infrastructure much more resilient.  Solving this problem cannot be achieved by water companies alone, nor by simply monitoring the problem more transparently; we need a holistic approach that involves a wide range of organisations and sectors to manage storm water and waste more intelligently.  We would like to see the widespread deployment of nature-based solutions with multiple benefits for the environment and society and adoption of a catchment-based approach to decision-making.”

Christine Colvin, Director for Communications with The Rivers Trust said: “The past 12 months have seen a significant change in discourse around the state of inland waters. Since June, The Rivers Trust’s interactive map<> showing untreated sewage discharges in 2019 has been viewed more than 116,000 times. Along with partner organisations from the Blueprint for Water, we joined the #EndSewagePollution Coalition with Surfers Against Sewage to raise public awareness of the issue.  Nearly 5,000 people wrote to their MP asking them to back the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, highlighting how many CSOs had spilled in their constituency . We are extremely grateful for the support of the 106 MPs, from all political parties, who have publicly expressed their support.  We are encouraged by the step towards greater transparency by government, but we need to see a clear commitment to rethink and re-engineer our drainage systems, with nature, to ensure we are more climate resilient and reducing the harm currently evident in our rivers.  Better access to CSO spill data takes us one step forward in creating healthier rivers, but missing the reading of Dunne’s Bill is two steps back.  We will do all we can to keep up the momentum and make sure we keep moving towards rivers fit for people and wildlife.”

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