Thank you for contacting me about sewage overflows.
Storm overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes, however climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades.
Following the work of Phillip Dunne on this issue in the last Parliament, including bringing forward a Private Member’s Bill, I am pleased that the Government has confirmed that tackling the harm caused by sewer overflows is a top priority.
My Ministerial colleague, Rebecca Pow MP, recently met with water company CEOs and made clear that the volume of sewage discharged into rivers and other waterways in extreme weather must be reduced. To achieve this, the new Storm Overflows Taskforce has agreed to set a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. I understand that the Taskforce is meeting regularly and working on plans to make progress towards that goal, and has commissioned research to gather evidence on the costs, benefits and feasibility of different options.
Ministers are also putting forward amendments to the Environment Bill that will help to reduce the harm that storm overflows cause to our waterways. I am aware that this will create three key duties: a duty on Government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows; a duty on Government to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the plan; and a duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis. I understand that Ministers expect to consult later this year on potential options to take forward to help achieve its long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows and I hope you are able to take part.
Water companies are currently committed in the 5-year business planning period (2020-25) to a significant programme of improvements to the monitoring and management of storm overflows at a cost of around £1.1 billion. This investment includes undertaking 800 investigations and 798 improvement schemes to provide environmental improvements by reducing spills from frequently spilling overflows.
Putting new commitments to improve our rivers into law is an important step forward to cut down the water sector’s reliance on storm overflows. This step is one of many, but an important one nonetheless, to provide greater protection for our water environment and the wildlife that relies on it.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP