Water firms win appeal against EA sewer regs

Appeals against the Environment Agency's attempts to tighten environmental standards on sewage overflows have found largely in favour of the water companies that launched them.

Last spring, the agency announced plans to give added protection to water quality in rivers and coastal waters.

These included stricter regulations for some 4200 combined sewage outflows (CSOs) around the UK.

CSOs are a kind of release valve to help take pressure off drainage systems during times of heavy flow – they release combined sewage and stormwater into watercourses when the system cannot cope with the volume it is experiencing.

Six water companies appealed against the agency’s plans and the Planning Inspectorate held an appeal hearing in January.

The Planning Inspectorate’s decision was announced this week and was largely in the water companies’ favour.

The EA has expressed disappointment at the decision but points out it was not all one way traffic and the Planning Inspectorate did rule in its favour on some crucial points.

Water companies will now be required to better maintain these CSOs to minimise overflows and potential pollution incidents.

A statemend from the EA said: “Water companies need to take a forward planning approach to prevent environmental pollution or increase the risk of sewer flooding, for example as a result of new development, and we are concerned that the Planning Inspectorate’s decision does not provide this incentive or any mechanism to protect against future environmental deterioration.

“Since 1989, the Environment Agency has worked with water companies to identify the highest sources of pollution from sewage overflows and has acted to tackle them, and some £2.5bn has been invested to upgrade sewer systems and reduce pollution.

“We will continue to work with water companies, farmers, local authorities and others to improve water quality even further to meet challenging new EU standards.”

David Gibbs

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