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Government’s sewage plan 'lacks urgency'

The government has published its plan to reduce sewage discharges into England's rivers and seas.

Water Quality On Derwent Panty

The storm overflows discharge reduction plan sets “stringent new targets” to protect people and the environment, according to the government.

It added that the plan requires water firms to deliver the “largest infrastructure programme” in their history. Read the full report here.

However, British Canoeing is concerned over a lack of real ambition or urgency to protect public health. We also believe the government has failed to take on demands for strong ambitious targets. 

This was despite a public consultation with over half of the 21,000 responses disagreeing with the level of ambition across all three of the target areas.

These are:

  • Eliminating impacts on ecology by 2050

  • Reducing the frequency of discharges to bathing waters to meet Environment Agency spill limits by 2035

  • Ensuring that overflows do not discharge above an average of 10 rainfall events per year by 2050

The report proposes that a reduction in harmful pathogens from storm overflows, discharging into designated bathing waters, could be achieved by disinfection or reducing the frequency of discharges.

This is supposed to meet standards set by the Environment Agency by 2035.

The timescale to improve all bathing waters and non-bathing waters, based on 10 rainfall events, by 2050 would see more generations of children paddling in rivers where sewage is discharged.

– Chantelle Grundy, British Canoeing's access and environment lead

“This proposal fails to recognise the miles of inland waterways not holding bathing water status but enjoyed by recreational users throughout the year,” said Chantelle Grundy, British Canoeing's access and environment lead.

“The timescale to improve all bathing waters and non-bathing waters, based on 10 rainfall events, by 2050 would see more generations of children paddling in rivers where sewage is discharged.”

The government plan states that it has considered the feedback and balanced the desire to see reductions in discharges from storm overflows, as soon as possible, against the impact on customer bills and carbon emissions from the water industry. 

Wildlife and Countryside Link - A missed opportunity to truly recover our waterways

It intends to adopt the targets as originally set out in the consultation, adding a review point in 2027, allowing it to update the targets in future and raise ambition where this remains “affordable and deliverable”.

The plan was a requirement under the Environment Act 2021 for the purposes of reducing discharges from the storm overflows.

It should detail clear enforceable targets the industry must meet to reduce the occurrence of storm overflow discharges.

Beyond this, Defra is undertaking work to improve water quality at bathing waters and has committed to a review of the Bathing Water Regulations. 

The government will consult on potential policy options for the Bathing Water Regulations in 2023.

It will also bring forward secondary legislation to ensure by the end of 2023, there will be 100% coverage of event duration monitors on all combined sewer overflows.

This will provide a complete picture of when and for how long, each storm overflow operates. 

Sewagepipe Bbc


The government will also bring forward secondary legislation to ensure water companies monitor the water quality impact of their assets that discharge sewage. 

This includes storm overflows and continuous discharges from wastewater treatment works to inland watercourses. 

This will provide continuous data and will significantly increase our understanding of the water quality of our rivers. 

The information will allow us to measure water companies’ progress to achieve the targets detailed in this plan and other objectives.

British Canoeing will continue to campaign for sewage free waters for all to enjoy the benefits of connecting to nature through our Clear Access Clear Water campaign and our work with the #EndSewagePollution Coalition.

Recent stories on this issue:

Sewage on our beaches

Water and sewerage firms company performance declines

Sewage in water is ‘growing health problem’

Government responds to “chemical cocktail” report

British Canoeing responds to the government’s sewage plan

Sewage data published by the Environment Agency