Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about sewage pollution. I share your concerns about the impact of sewage pollution on precious wildlife in our rivers, as well as on our health.
All of England’s rivers and lakes were required to have achieved good ecological status by 2015 but only 14% of rivers met this standard by 2019, with no progress made over the past four years. Sewage wastewater discharges by water companies into rivers have been found to account for damage to 36% of waterways. It is astonishing that water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers over 200,000 times last year.
People are rightly shocked at the frequency of sewage discharges and the damage it does to some of our country’s most valued and delicate river habitats. Regulation needs to be tightened to stop water companies using discharges as a day-to-day measure, when it was put in place for only the most extreme circumstances. Action to date has been insufficient, we must act urgently to restore and enhance our rivers and waterways.
I support the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill by Philip Dunne MP, which would place a duty on water companies to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged into waterways. It was scheduled for a Second Reading debate on 13 November, however, this has been pushed back until 15 January 2021.
I also supported Mr Dunne’s amendment to the Environment Bill which would have required water companies to address water quality and the impact of sewage discharges in their annual plans. Disappointingly, this was voted down by the Government.
The Government says it has set up a new taskforce with the Environment Agency, Water UK and Ofwat to address the problem of sewage discharges from storm overflows.
In recent years, customers have faced rising water bills while those at the top of water companies have received multimillion-pound packages, huge bonuses and dividends. The cost of cleaning up our rivers must come from these profits, rather than being recovered from customers. With the growing climate crisis, I believe we need a larger strategy to tackle current and future challenges for our water and sewerage system.