Water firms discharged raw sewage into English waters 400,000 times last year

Water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters in England more than 400,000 times last year, Environment Agency (EA) data has revealed.

Untreated human effluent poured into rivers and seas for a total of 3.1m hours via storm overflow pipes that are supposed to be used only in extreme weather to relieve pressure in the sewage system.

The data is being published for the first time as a result of pressure on the EA, water companies and the government over the scale of sewage pollution in rivers.

Data for 2019 published by the Guardian last year showed raw sewage was discharged for 1.5m hours into rivers alone.

Countries are legally obliged to treat sewage before it is released into waterways. Discharges of untreated human waste are permitted only in exceptional circumstances, for example after extreme rainfall, the European court of justice has ruled.

The new figures show the scale of sewage discharges in Inghilterra into rivers and seas. They have increased from 292,864 incidents in 2019 per 403,171 nel 2020 – a 27% rise.

This is partly because more monitoring of storm overflows by water companies has this year provided a much clearer picture of the scale of the pollution. Nel 2020, monitoring was placed on 12,092 storm overflows, compared with 8,276 nel 2019, un 32% increase. The EA said average spill numbers remained similar to last year.

Sir James Bevan, the EA’s chief executive, disse: “Storm overflows are designed to discharge sewage to rivers or the sea at times of heavy rainfall to prevent it backing up into homes and streets. But higher population and climate change means they will discharge more often.

“The Environment Agency is working actively with the water companies to ensure overflows are properly controlled and the harm they do to the environment stopped. Increased monitoring and reporting of storm overflows is part of the solution. It means everyone can see exactly what is happening, and will help drive the improvements and future investment that we all want to see, with £1.1bn of investment already planned for the next four years.”

On Monday the government announced it was putting the reduction of sewage discharges by storm overflows into a legal framework. Ministers will have to come up with a plan to reduce them di 2022 – a timeline that was criticised by campaigners as too slow.

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