Following on from the recent Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat, the Government has, today, announced the start of a six-week consultation on the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. Sewage discharges into our rivers have risen to utterly unacceptable levels and this plan outlines a substantial change in how water companies tackle the number of discharges of untreated sewage. The Government and the public have made it abundantly clear that these discharges are completely unacceptable.
Under the proposed plan:
- By 2035, the environmental impacts of 3,000 storm overflows (75%) affecting our most important protected sites will have been eliminated;
- By 2035, there will be 70% fewer discharges into bathing waters –(using last years figures that would have equated to 4,620 fewer discharges into our bathing waters during the bathing season;)
- By 2040, approximately 160,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated (40% of the total); and by 2050, approximately 320,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated (80% of the total).
- The consultation outlines how water companies are expected to achieve these targets, including mapping their sewer networks, reducing surface water connections and engaging in long-term collaborative planning.
This plan also details how government will hold to account those companies who do not meet expectations, including a new monitoring and reporting framework as legislated for in the Environment Act which will significantly improve the ability of both Ofwat and the Environment Agency to take enforcement action where needed.
This consultation will give everyone the chance to have their say and help make sure that this plan is put into action without being watered down. The main measures under consultation are:
- Time-bound targets for water companies to achieve the complete elimination of ecological harm from storm overflows, further protect public health and limit storm overflow use;
- Details of how water companies will be expected to achieve these targets;
- An outline of wider options to reduce the strain on our sewer system, such as mandatory sustainable drainage systems; and
- Commitments to revise guidance on applying for a new bathing water designation, and to publish responses to a call for evidence on options to eliminate the use of wet wipes and ensure they are biodegradable where needed.
Today’s consultation follows significant action to date on tackling the critical issue of storm overflows. The Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat, in which the Government has for the first time set a clear expectation that the industry’s economic regulator should prioritise action by water companies to protect the environment, is now in force.
A raft of measures have also been brought forward in the Environment Act 2021 to tackle sewage discharges, including the requirement for greater transparency from water companies on their storm overflow data, meaning there are now more protections in place for our water environment than ever before.
Please do take part in this consultation – you can find it here.