Ministers snub plea for systems to monitor amount of sewage pumped into rivers

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee praised much of the Government’s response – but pointed out it had ruled out one of its recommendations

Discharge of sewage into a river

Ministers have snubbed calls for systems to monitor the amounts of untreated sewage pumped into rivers.

Campaigners hoped studying the volume of waste legally discharged into waterways would shame companies into cutting the practice.

But, despite a demand from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, the Government has refused to budge.

The committee said today: “Following widespread criticism from members of the public, campaigners and parliamentarians, water companies have now committed to improve transparency around the industry’s use of storm overflows.

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“Improved overflow monitoring is essential to transforming understanding the frequency and nature of discharges of sewage from combined sewer overflows.

Water companies are coming under increasing pressure to stop discharging sewage into water courses


Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock)

“The EAC recommended better analysis of event duration monitoring data to identify where discharges are likely to breach permit conditions.

“The Environment Agency is taking this work forward, and the Government says it will consider how to communicate this effectively to the public.

“The EAC recommendation to government to require industry to install volume monitors as well, so as to gauge the amount of untreated or partially treated sewage being discharged, was rejected by ministers.”

Committee chairman, Tory MP Philip Dunne, said: “Improving water quality in our rivers is not an easy task and will not be solved overnight.

Committee chairman Philip Dunne



“In 2021, sewage poured into our waterways over 370,000 times; this is simply unacceptable.”

However, the committee said the Government “agreed with the majority of the recommendations” in its Water Quality in Rivers report – “demonstrating a welcome shift in attitude from the Government on water quality”.

The Environment Department claimed its “Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan Consultation will revolutionise how water companies will tackle the number of discharges of untreated sewage, which the Government and the public have made clear are wholly unacceptable”.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow insisted: “Water quality is a top priority for me.

“We are the first government to set out our expectation that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows and we are consulting on the single biggest programme in history to tackle storm sewage discharges.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow



Meanwhile, household bills could rise further to help fund upgrades to sewer systems, MPs signalled.

“The Government and the water industry regulator Ofwat accept that the next water industry price review process has needed to prioritise long term investment in the sewerage network, to take better account for natural capital and to increase the use of nature-based solutions,” said the committee” they said.

“This paves the way for a major upgrade of England’s overloaded Victorian sewerage infrastructure.”

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