The government has responded to the Environmental Audit Committee report which highlighted a “chemical cocktail” of sewage, slurry and plastic pollution entering our rivers.
In 2021, British Canoeing gave evidence to the committee and raised the threats to the health of recreational waterway users and harm to our natural environment.
The government reaffirmed that restoring water quality was a priority, however the response was disappointing and lacked ambition to protect the health of the paddling community.
The EAC report “recommend[ed] that the government actively encourage the designation of at least one widely used stretch of river for bathing in each water company area by 2025 at the latest.”
Disappointingly the government failed to agree with the suggestion of a target, but said:
“We encourage applications for new bathing water designations annually and are actively exploring ways to make the application process more accessible to build on this.
“Local stakeholders are best placed to know which popular bathing areas may be suitable for designation.”
Bathing Waters status is the only location where water quality is officially monitored for bacteria harmful to public health and the data published.
There are only two Bathing Water designations on English rivers. Without this vital monitoring paddlers and other recreational users on inland waters do not benefit from the same protections as those on the coast.
While we recognise Bathing Water status does not guarantee the water is free from harm, it is a transparent tool for which stakeholders and the public can understand the current water quality.
It enables people to press stakeholders for urgent action to end sewage pollution.
The government’s Storm Overflow Discharge Plan sets targets for reducing the frequency of discharges from storm overflows (to meet Environment Agency spill targets by 2035 in official designated bathing waters), but with a lack of inland waters designated, the health of paddlers and other recreational users will continue to be put at risk.
British Canoeing would like to see more bathing waters designated to drive change.
If you agree, take a look at the Surfers Against Sewage petition which is calling on government to set legally binding targets to increase the number of official river Bathing Waters in the UK.
British Canoeing welcome the commitment by water companies to bring forward full event duration monitoring by 2023, an essential tool to help inform when and where to paddle to avoid sewage discharges.
However, we are disappointed that “The government does not accept the recommendation by the EAC to install volume monitors to provide continuous real-time monitoring of the volume of discharges” - clearly this is vital information needed to make an informed choice.
The EAC report “recommend[s] that Ofwat require water companies, as a condition of
their continued licensing, to deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of pollution incidents, with a target of zero serious incidents by 2030.”
British Canoeing were pleased that Ofwat welcome the committee’s recommendation and want to see serious pollution incidents reduced to zero by 2030.
The government’s revised Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat includes an expectation for Ofwat to “challenge water companies to demonstrate how they will achieve zero serious pollution incidents by 2030” which will provide a clear signal to companies of the importance of achieving zero serious incidents.
The EAC report “recommend[s] that the Environment Agency reclassify significant sewage spills from storm overflows into watercourses in dry weather as pollution incidents, irrespective of permit compliance.”
The government agrees with this recommendation. The Environment Agency already records storm overflows operating in dry weather as pollution incidents.
British Canoeing are concerned of the impacts from the agricultural practice of the use of slurry sludge on land adjacent to waterways and would urge the government to go further than “considering options for modernising the regulatory framework used to manage the risk of sewage sludge use on agricultural land, such as permitting”.
Read the government full response, here.
Clear Access, Clear Waters continues to champion the case for sewage free rivers to protect the health of recreational users and enable nature and people to thrive, keep up to date with the latest news here.