Anglers Against Pollution

National Overflows Plan shines light on decades of under-investment in sewerage infrastructure

The announcement on 12th March 2024, from the industry body Water UK of a £10bn five-point plan to cut sewage pollution from storm overflows has been given a guarded welcome by the Angling Trust who have warned that this can only be seen as the first step on a long road to make up for decades of under-investment in the nation’s sewerage infrastructure.

The Trust has highlighted that the full cost of meeting the targets to reduce sewage spills is in the order of £60bn over the next 25 years. To deliver this will require a radical change in direction by both the water regulator, OFWAT, and the government – both of whom have pursued a policy of blocking capital investment at the expense of the environment to keep bills low for short-term political expediency.

The National Overflows Plan is dependent on approval from OFWAT and ministers and promises to deliver in five areas:

  1. Building more storage within sewers to hold peaks of rainwater and upgrading the capacity of sewage works.
  2. Preventing the system overloading by installing ‘smart’ technology using sensors and artificial intelligence.
  3. Reducing the volume of rainwater entering sewers (for example by replacing tarmac with planted areas, allowing rain to sink into the ground rather than flooding drains through the development of SUDs (sustainable urban drainage).
  4. Treating spills before they enter the main waterbody (for example by developing nature-based solutions such as wetlands and reed beds).
  5. Screening on every overflow to prevent litter entering the river/coast.

Significantly, the announcement was accompanied by an interactive map showing the location of each overflow and what plans are in place to upgrade and improve them within the plan. It will also show where no plans are in place thereby highlighting the scale of the pollution threat still faced by the nation’s rivers and waterways.

Martin Salter, Head of Policy at the Angling Trust, said:

“Anglers have been at the forefront of the campaign against the scandalous pollution of our precious rivers by the water industry and we have been calling for a massive step change in capital investment to upgrade a creaking and leaking wastewater infrastructure that is demonstrably no longer fit for purpose. The fact that we can now see precisely where improvements are scheduled is a welcome piece of transparency, but it will also give us a nasty glimpse into the future for those rivers and streams where there are no plans to do anything at all to prevent sewage from killing fish and other wildlife. OFWAT needs to sign off this plan now and ministers need to tell the Water Companies to go further and faster.”

The government has made a series of pledges in recent years to tackle sewage pollution including:

  • Ending the automatic right for developers to connect to already overloaded sewerage networks.
  • Ending operator self-monitoring.
  • Making water companies statutory consultees on planning applications.
  • Banning the manufacture and sale of plastic wet wipes.
  • Giving water companies the right to enter private property to repair defective drains.

So far none of these pledges have been delivered.

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

“Water UK is calling this investment ‘world-leading’ but we must remember this is driven out of necessity and after decades of under-investment. What matters now is that the claims made by Water UK are delivered. Only then will we see our rivers and coasts improve and be on course to deliver the pollution reduction targets that have been set. The government and OFWAT need to take note. They need to get behind this plan, not stand in its way.

“What is proposed is to cut sewage spills by over 150,000 per year, more than double what the government is asking for. This is one cheer for the water companies, but two boos for the government as it shows how unambitious this government has been. Even their announcement of an extra £180 million of investment this year looks pathetic when set again the scale of the crisis.

“Campaigners across England will be watching very carefully and holding water companies, OFWAT and the government to account. This will be an election issue. Water companies, OFWAT and the government must understand these are our rivers, our seas, and not your open sewers.”

Anglers across the country will be continuing to monitor the state of our rivers. Through our Anglers Against Pollution water quality monitoring network, we now have an army of citizen scientists made up of over 668 anglers regularly checking 201 rivers across 61 catchments. The data they are collecting, coupled with the information being provided by Water UK, along with other open sources, will ensure there is no place for those who pollute our rivers and seas to hide, and no excuse for the government not to take urgent action.

Read the Water UK press release here

Find out how you can support Anglers Against Pollution here

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