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Legislation to reduce sewage discharges in rivers

Picture Derwentsewage

Yesterday the government announced new legal duties on water companies to reduce sewage discharge into our rivers.

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 in recent years climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades.

Paddlers, swimmers and other recreational users have added mounting pressure on government to take action to stop raw sewage entering our blue spaces. Last year over 44,000 people supported the EndSewagePollution Petition led by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage, urging government to take action to stop sewage pollution entering our rivers and oceans and to guarantee year-round water quality.  

Earlier this year the Storm Overflows Task Force  agreed a long term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows and water companies agreed to make real-time data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round, another step forward, however at present there is only one inland bathing waters site, the River Wharfe at Ilkley.

The paddling community have actively lobbied MP’s to support the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill presented by the Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP and designed to cut discharges of raw sewage into our rivers. Now, thanks to your efforts and lobbying, the government is listening and has confirmed that key policies to tackle sewage pollution will now become law including:

  • 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.

Chantelle Grundy Access and Environment Officer says ‘We really welcome this announcement, however we need to explore the detail and ensure the outcome is an end to raw sewage being discharged into our bathing waters by 2030. Protecting the health of paddlers, swimmers and other recreational users is essential right now, to enable us all to benefit from our wonderful blue spaces’.

British Canoeing will continue to work with the #Endsewagepollution coalition and government to explore how and when the new legislation will be delivered, how ambitious it will be and how it will be enforced.

Please continue to lobby your MP to support the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill to protect the places we paddle from sewage pollution.