Defra unveils steps to end sewage dumping and clean polluted rivers

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced a series of measures to ensure the cessation of illegal sewage dumping into the rivers, while attracting private investment to clean up the nation’s polluted waterways.

Defra unveils steps to end sewage dumping and clean polluted rivers

Under the Environment Act 2021, the UK is legally obligated to protect 30% of its sea for nature by 2030.

Under the Tory leadership, the UK Government committed to ensuring that 77% of England’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters would be classed as being in ‘Good Ecological Status or Potential’ by 2027, up from 16% presently.

However, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) warned earlier this year that due to poor implementation of key laws, the UK is likely to miss these targets.

Environment Agency data for 2021 states that untreated sewage was discharged into coastal bathing waters across England for a total of 160,000 hours, in 25,000 separate discharge incidents.

Today (11 July), the Labour Government’s Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Steve Reed has announced a list of initial steps towards putting a halt to the ongoing sewage crisis, while generating investment and job opportunities.

Reed has formally asked Ofwat to ensure that funding earmarked for critical infrastructure investments remains dedicated solely to projects benefitting customers and the environment. He has further insisted that any unspent funds be promptly refunded to customers, prohibiting diversion for bonuses, dividends or salary increases.

Water companies will also be mandated to revise their ‘Articles of Association’, the rules governing each company, to prioritise the interests of customers and environmental sustainability.

Moreover, Reed has proposed the establishment of new customer panels, which will grant customers the authority to summon board members and hold water executives accountable.

Strengthened protections and increased compensation mechanisms are also set to be introduced, aimed at households and businesses affected by disruptions to essential water services. Pending consultation, compensation entitlements are also set to nearly double, encompassing a broader range of scenarios including instances of Boil Water Notices.

Reed said: “We will never look the other way while water companies pump sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas.

“Over the coming weeks and months, this Government will outline further steps to reform the water sector and restore our rivers, lakes and seas to good health.”

Ofwat’s green investment plans

This comes after the water regulator Ofwat announced a proposal to triple the water sector’s environmental investment by raising bill prices.

The plan would result in an average household water bill increase of £19 in England and Wales over the next five years, in addition to a £94 average increase for broader investment programmes. The price increase aims to support the sector’s goal of investing £88bn for cleaner rivers and seas by 2030.

Under the Environment Act 2021, the UK is legally obligated to protect 30% of its sea for nature by 2030.

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Related feature: From onshore wind to clean rivers: Seven announcements from the Labour Party you may have missed this week – edie

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