Good plan, but far too slow: our rivers and coasts need action now!

Too much raw and partially treated sewage is still being poured into our rivers and coastal waters. In 2022, we are still too reliant on Victorian infrastructure, which itself has suffered from a chronic lack of investment. Against this backdrop, the announcement from the government today, in the form of their consultation on the Storm Overflow Reduction Plan, is to be welcomed.

Its ambitions to set targets for water companies to reduce discharges by 80% and to ensure water companies completely eliminate the ecological harm any storm sewage discharges cause to the environment and significantly reduce discharges to protect public health, will bring about a step change in how water companies treat sewage – and how they treat our rivers and coastal waters.

This move is a useful reminder that our rivers and coastal waters are not drains in which to dump sewage. At this time of a biodiversity crisis, and a mental health crisis as we slowly recover from the Covid pandemic, our rivers and coastal waters are precious ecosystems and important recreational spaces.

This change in the government’s approach to the dumping of raw sewage into our rivers, the very fact they have published this report, the last minute additions made to the Environment Act, and the new duties recently placed on OFWAT (the water industry regulator) are largely due to the concerns express by the public and the efforts of the Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution campaign, our Broken Water Report in partnership with Salmon & Trout Conservation, and the work of many other NGOs, including the Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage through the #endsewagepollution coalition.

But why are we being asked to wait until 2050 before the targets set out in today’s announcement are delivered? With such a drastic decline in freshwater species, from fish to invertebrates to plants, we do not have that much time. The actions needed are welcome, but set against the urgency required, the investments proposed in the next few years will not be enough.

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said:

“Today’s announcement is welcome. It is good to see the government at least proposing to do the right thing. But this report has been months in the making and has involved a broad range of stakeholders from industry, consumer groups, regulators, and NGOs. Now we have another consultation when what is needed is action – action today, not tomorrow, because today, only 14% of our rivers meet good ecological status, as assessed by the Water Framework Directive, and not a single one meets good chemical status.

“The government has all the tools it needs; new laws in the Environment Act, new duties on OFWAT, and the overwhelming support of the public who want to see clean rivers and seas. I very much hope the government will now drive this forward with a lot more urgency. Let’s not wait to 2050 before we get the job done, and let’s make sure that water company bonuses and dividends are directly linked to how much they do and how quickly they move.”


Consultation on the Government’s Storm Overflow Reduction Plan

Angling Trust and Salmon & Trout Conservation’s Time to Fix the Broken Water Sector report

More information on the Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution campaign

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