The government has passed into law new targets to reduce overflows of sewage from storm drains. In a recent press release, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs writes that the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in August 2022, has been enshrined into law.
The move should put an end to the dumping of sewage in rivers and seas by 2050. During 2022, there were over 300,000 sewage spills from storm overflows in England. Following heavy criticism from the public, campaigners and opposition parties, the government has implemented a plan to address the problem.
The new targets will permit water companies no more than ten ‘heavy rainfall events’ per year. The storm overflows were designed for occasional use during episodes of bad weather, but in some areas the sewage dumps were occurring on an almost daily basis.
It is estimated that the required changes will cost water companies an estimated £56bn. Those companies who fail to meet the targets will be fined, although it is not clear what amounts are involved. The Times reports that the economic regulator Ofwat can impose penalties of up to 10% of a water company’s turnover if it breaches statutory obligations.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “I have been unequivocal on this issue. Water companies need to clean up their act – and they need to cover the costs.”
“But the hard truth is that however much we all want to see this fixed immediately, the scale and complexity means there is no way that we can stop pollution overnight. To suggest otherwise is dishonest.”
She added: “I am using the full force of my powers to make sure that we stop the damage caused by storm overflows as quickly as possible. That includes our plans today to put our costed and credible target on a new legal footing.”
Water firms will also be obliged to monitor all of the 15,000 storm overflows across England by the end of 2023.
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