22.03.23

WildFish response to the House of Lords Report on Water and Sewage

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River pollution.

Today, the House of Lords has published The affluent and the effluent: cleaning up failures in water and sewage regulation. The report agrees that the Government must do more to reduce pollution and secure future water supply. 

The document sets out massive failures by the Government, the regulators and the water companies to provide water to drink and treat sewage. In relation to water supply, the report reveals that the Environment Agency has admitted the UK will run out of water in 20 years unless action is taken.

While the report recognises an urgent need to prevent further environmental damage and secure future water supply, it lacks calls for the immediate action needed to stop the rot.

As part of any National Water Strategy, the Government must, with urgency:

1. Enforce the existing legislation to require water companies to invest in infrastructure to stop sewage discharge into rivers other than in exceptional circumstances.

2. Incentivise water companies to invest in the water supply infrastructure that is needed to meet future water demand without compromising our already struggling river systems.

Investment in the environment

The report recognises that the freshwater crisis is a collective failure to invest in the resources and infrastructure needed to treat sewage and meet future water supply needs. Rivers are full of sewage and some run dry yet a single reservoir hasn’t been built since 1991

On the subject of monitoring, the report reveals that it is often individuals and organisations that report pollution issues, not the regulators in place to protect the environment.

The report states that: water companies, which supply our water and maintain associated infrastructure for water and sewage, must improve their practices dramatically to prevent further damage to the environment and secure future supply. It goes on to say that: the Government must do more to support Ofwat and the Environment Agency in reaching their targets on pollution reduction and future supply.

WildFish published a report in 2020 which called for the Environment Agency to be given the funding and resources to protect the environment properly. In 2021, WildFish submitted its first complaint to the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) challenging the failure of Ofwat and the Secretaries of State to enforce the law and protect English rivers from sewage pollution.

Tackling sewage pollution

The report focuses on storm overflows and pollution that water companies are responsible for. It recognises the significant level of investment needed to ensure storm overflows are only used in times of exceptional weather and highlights the over-reliance of self-monitoring by water companies. 

In 2022, WildFish began legal proceedings challenging the Government’s Storm Overflow Reduction Plan on the basis that it is confusing, contradictory and lacks urgency effectively allowing sewage pollution to continue until 2050. The House of Lords report agrees that the plan ‘lacks bite‘. 

The issue of water supply

The report comments: nor has investment kept pace with the demands of future water supply needs, leaving us lacking appropriate plans and infrastructure to deal with future demand, and the loss of billions of litres of water to leakage every day. It goes on to say: Ofwat has failed to ensure companies invest sufficiently in water infrastructure, choosing to keep bills low at the expense of investment. 

Earlier this year, WildFish published a report about the water companies’ failure to prepare England for drought.

In summary

The outcomes of this report highlight the urgent need to invest in protecting wildlife and the environment from further damage. The conclusions drawn must now be used to enforce existing legislation to stop raw sewage discharge, other than in exceptional circumstances, and bring forward water supply investment.

 
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