I know the importance of our rivers through my involvement with the River Lark catchment group and local individual who have made tremendous improvements to local rivers and water meadows. We all know that water quality is essential to encourage biodiversity and to care for the precious chalk streams ecosystems and our broader natural environment.
The Environment Act will now allow us to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. I am grateful for the scrutiny Parliament has provided, and the additional amendments to the bill strengthen these measures. However, in this letter I would like to specifically address the issue of storm overflows.
The amount of sewage discharge by water companies into our rivers is not acceptable. As a government we have made it crystal clear to water companies that they must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority. If we do not start to see significant improvements, we will not hesitate to take action through a swathe of new measures directly on water companies in the Environment Bill.
Contrary to reports no MP voted to allow water companies to pump sewage into our rivers. We actually voted in favour of a package of measures to reduce harms from storm overflows including:
• a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and
Sewerage Management Plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage
and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm
overflows will be addressed through these plans.
• a power of direction for the government to direct water companies in relation to the
actions in these Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans. We will use this power
of direction if plans are not good enough. This is a powerful tool.
• a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from
• a requirement for government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be
needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and the costs and benefits
of those actions. Both publications are required before 1 September 2022.
• a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on
storm overflow operation on an annual basis.
• a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real time information on the
operation of storm overflows. This means it will be clear as to how often storm overflows
are being used, which will aid enforcement.
• a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and
downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
• In July of this year, this Government set out, for the first time ever, its expectation that
Ofwat (the regulator) should incentivise water companies to invest to significantly reduce
the use of storm overflows in the forthcoming pricing review period. Ofwat will be required
to act in accordance with this expectation. We have placed this policy position in law.
I hope the details outlined above assure you that both I and the Government are focused on protecting our local rivers and waterways and reducing the use of storm overflows nationally.