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Sewage law-breaking needs to ‘mark beginning of the end to appalling neglect’ of our rivers
Today’s announcement from the UK’s environment watchdog that sewage releases may have broken the law needs to “mark the beginning of the end of this appalling legacy of neglect by the government and its regulators,” says Angling Trust & Fish Legal CEO Jamie Cook.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has identified possible failures to comply with environmental law by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency (EA) and Ofwat in relation to the regulation of combined sewer overflows (CSOs).
Jamie Cook said:
“A consequence of this appalling record of neglect is that our rivers and streams are suffering increased levels of sewage pollution whilst legal protections are simply ignored or discarded.
“Savage cuts to the Environment Agency budgets since 2010 have left it unable to do its job as our environmental regulator and increasingly it has been left to citizen science and organisations like the Angling Trust and Fish Legal to pick up the baton.
“Quite clearly the pollution figures show that the current regulatory regime has given the water industry a ‘licence to pollute’ and the OEP’s action needs to mark the beginning of the end of this appalling legacy of neglect by the government and its regulators.”
The Angling Trust and Fish Legal, together with our partners and predecessor organisations, have been fighting those who pollute our precious rivers and waterways since 1948. We have done so with ever decreasing levels of support from the very organisations who are supposed to be looking after the environment. The fact that Defra, a government department, now stands accused of failing to comply with its own laws and that its two regulators – the EA and Ofwat – are exposed for woefully inadequate regulation of the water industry, is a matter of great significance for those of us engaged in seeking compensation and reparations from polluting water companies and others.
The OEP launched its investigation into the regulation of CSOs by the three public authorities in June last year after receiving a formal complaint from our colleagues at Wildfish alleging failures to comply with legal duties relating to the monitoring and enforcement of water companies’ management of sewage. The OEP’s action may also have relevance in the ongoing Fish Legal case on Costa Beck in Yorkshire where Fish Legal is waiting for the outcome of its own High Court challenge with Pickering Fishery Association against the Government and the Environment Agency for failures to review and enforce permits regulating sewage pollution.
The water industry figures from the last couple of years make for particularly grim reading:
The number of sewage spills in 2021 – 372,533
The number of sewage spills in 2022 – 301,091
The total duration (hours) of monitored spill events in 2021 was 2,667,452
The total duration (hours) of monitored spill events in 2022 was 1,754,92
Furthermore, recent investigations have revealed that Thames, Wessex and Southern Water appear to have collectively released sewage in dry spills for 3,500 hours in 2022 – in breach of their permits.