I am concerned about the poor water quality of our rivers and inland waters, and the impact of sewage pollution on precious wildlife and ecosystems, as well as on our health.
All of England’s rivers and lakes were required to have achieved good ecological status by 2015 but only 14% of rivers met this standard by 2019, with no progress made over the past four years. Sewage wastewater discharges by water companies into rivers have been found to account for damage to 36% of waterways. It is astonishing that water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers over 200,000 times last year.
People are rightly shocked at the frequency of sewage discharges and the damage it does to some of our country’s most valued and delicate river habitats. Regulation needs to be tightened to stop water companies using discharges as a day-to-day measure, when it was put in place for only the most extreme circumstances. Much more needs to be done to make our rivers clean enough for swimming and pollution-free for fish, birds, insects and mammals.
I am aware that Philip Dunne’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill would place a duty on water companies to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged into waterways. It was scheduled for a Second Reading debate on 13 November, but, disappointingly, this has been pushed back until 15 January 2021.
Mr Dunne has also tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill requiring water companies to address water quality and the impact of sewage discharges in their annual plans. I will follow developments on both these fronts closely and support them when I can.
Action to date has been insufficient, we must act urgently to restore and enhance our rivers and waterways. In recent years, customers have faced rising water bills while those at the top of water companies have received multimillion-pound packages, huge bonuses and dividends.
With the growing climate crisis, I believe we need a larger strategy to tackle current and future challenges for our water and sewerage system.