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Government Passes Sewage Amendment

After a public outcry over the extent of raw sewage being discharged into our waters and the government’s recent vote against the Duke of Wellington's amendment to secure progressive reductions in harm caused by untreated sewage, last night saw the government pass its own sewage amendment. But does it go far enough?

The government amendment was released early Friday evening, giving very little opportunity for scrutiny ahead of the crucial vote last night.

The amendment states ‘A sewerage undertaker whose area is wholly or mainly in England must secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from the undertakers storm overflows’.

BUT the wording ’progressive reduction’ provides little clarity on when the volume and scale of raw sewage being pumped into our coastal and inland waters will end. And what does ‘progressive reduction’ really mean, is that 10% reduction over 3 years; 15% over 10 years, a pilot scheme? It seems very much open to interpretation. The amendment also specifically refers to combined sewer overflows and not the sewage system as a whole which the Duke’s amendment addressed, this is a missed opportunity.

There is also no specific duty on OFWAT or the Environment Agency (EA) to ensure compliance, and will require strong a direction from Ministers to the water companies and their regulators, OFWAT and the EA.

We do welcome the requirement that reductions should focus on areas to ‘reduce impacts on public health’ alongside reducing ‘impacts on the environment’. Following the pandemic we have seen record numbers of people taking to our waters for recreational purposes.

Families should be able to experience the fun and joy of paddling outdoors in nature, without concerns for the health of their children due to the presence of raw sewage. We need urgent action to end the unacceptable frequency and scale of raw sewage being discharged into our blue spaces. Strong regulation, investment and enforcement are essential to deliver the healthy blue spaces we all depend on so much, the government’s sewage amendment should have gone further.

– Chantelle Grundy Access and Environment Officer

The Duke of Wellington’s amendment would have placed a new duty on sewerage undertakers in England to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage ‘as soon as is reasonable’. In addition, it required the Secretary of State, the Director of OFWAT and the EA to ensure compliance with the duty through the exercise of their functions.

The Environment Bill will now return to the House of Lords for consideration of the government’s amendment.

Thank you to all paddlers who have engaged and continue to engage in the fight for clean waters, the government U-turn on this matter shows how important it is for individual voices to be heard. We would also like to thank the Duke of Wellington and Philip Dunne MP for their dedication on this matter and our fellow #EndSewagePollution Coalition members including Surfers Against SewageThe Rivers Trust and The Angling Trust.

British Canoeing will continue to campaign for sewage free waters for all to enjoy paddle sport through our Clear Access Clear Waters campaign and membership of the #EndSewagePollution Coalition.