Downing Street says it “fully agrees” that it is unacceptable for water companies to dump raw sewage into the country’s rivers – but has defended government action after MPs voted against a change in environmental law.
According to the environmental agency, raw sewage was discharged into coastal waters and rivers in England more than 400,000 times in the past year.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the intentions for an amendment to environmental law that will make water companies legally obliged to prevent raw sewage discharges into waterways “are already being delivered.”
The statement comes after activists, including Surfers Against Sewage, said they were disappointed that 268 MPs – up from 204 – disagreed with proposals to amend the bill, due to be tabled for peer review later today.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We fully agree that the current failure by water companies to adequately reduce wastewater discharges is unacceptable.”
The spokesman added that the amendment tabled by the Duke of Wellington “remains free” but “the initial estimates are over £ 150 billion and that would mean that individuals – each of us as taxpayers – are potentially paying thousands of pounds per person as a result.”
As a result, Downing Street said it “is not right to sign a blank check on behalf of customers without understanding the tradeoffs and bills involved,” but “tougher legal obligations” are imposed on water companies and “We will continue to listen to MPs who have legitimate concerns “.
Activists said they were “disappointed” that MPs failed to support a campaign that imposed a legal obligation on water companies to prevent raw sewage from entering waterways.
They are pushing for water companies to pay for restoring English coasts after discharging sewage into rivers.
Last week MPs voted 268-204 to disagree with an amendment to the environmental law tabled in the Lords that wanted water companies to have a new obligation to reduce the discharge of raw sewage into rivers and a decrease in those caused by the discharges Demonstrate damage.
Mixed water overflows – also known as storm overflows or drain valves – can be used to pump wastewater from the sewer system into rivers. The overflows are designed to drain excess water after heavy rainfall or a storm to prevent sewage from flowing back into homes.
To prevent this from happening, water utilities are allowed to discharge rainwater and a small amount of untreated sewage into the country’s waterways.
The Environment Agency has reported that raw sewage was discharged into coastal waters and rivers in England more than 400,000 times in the past year, in what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) described as “unacceptable”.
Commenting on footage of untreated sewage being dumped into rivers and seas across the country, Luke Pollard, Defra’s shadow minister, said: “People are rightly angry about the dire state of England’s rivers.
“Not a single English river is in a healthy state and there have been no improvements since 2016.
“The government is to blame for allowing water companies to dump raw sewage into our rivers and the ocean, seemingly at will.
“Conservatives should urgently reverse their decision to block the amendment to environmental law so that water companies are forced to reduce the amount of wastewater they pump into our rivers and seas.
“The millions that go to shareholders are not helping to clean up our rivers and seas.
“The Tories should learn from the record and experience of the Welsh Labor Government, which has been able to advocate sustainable drainage systems to reduce pollution of sewer systems and make investments to address future challenges a top priority.”
Hugo Tagholm, managing director of Surfers Against Sewage, said water companies “have no right to destroy these spaces”.
He told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday: “The requested change is sensible. We believe that water companies have to cut their dividends every year to clean up our rivers and our coasts.
“You have no right to destroy these spaces and you must take the ambitious steps to restore them.
It has been reported that it would cost between £ 150 billion and £ 160 billion to make the waterways safer.
Defra says this work would include the complete separation of sewer systems, which could lead to “potentially significant disruption to homes, businesses and infrastructure across the country”.
However, they have “made it clear to the water companies that they must primarily reduce the discharge of wastewater from storm overflows significantly”.
Surfers Against Sewage said in a blog post last week that they will continue their rally on Nature.
“Why don’t they want water companies to be legally obliged not to pollute our rivers and seas with wastewater? It’s incredible and hardly shows any commitment to be the greenest government ever. It is time for more ambitious thinking and law that brings protected nature back into public ownership instead of leaving it to the ravages of shareholder interests. “
After the amendment has been rejected, the draft law is presented to colleagues for consideration.
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