Closed petition Ban Water Companies discharging raw sewage into water courses.

Ensure Water companies treat the sewage they are responsible for. Not discharge it into rivers and water courses. After all what goes into the ocean comes back as the fish we eat.

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This should be illegal!

This petition is closed All petitions run for 6 months

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Parliament debated this topic

This topic was debated on 15 November 2021

Watch the petition 'Ban Water Companies discharging raw sewage into water courses.' being debated

Government responded

This response was given on 5 May 2021

Tackling the harm caused by sewage is a top priority for Government. That is why we have established the Storm Overflows Taskforce and have announced plans for legislation to address this problem.

Read the response in full

All discharges to the water environment, including from storm overflows, require a permit issued by the Environment Agency under the Environmental Permitting Regulations. The permits contain the necessary conditions to regulate the discharge and protect the environment. Compliance with permits is assessed by the Environment Agency. Any non-compliance is reported and will be subject to appropriate action under the Environment Agency’s enforcement and sanctions guidance. The Environment Agency will continue to prosecute water companies which fail to uphold the law or cause serious environmental harm.

Storm overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes. Climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades. Storm overflows are a last resort in modern sewer design, but the age of our sewerage systems means their complete elimination is not practicable or affordable.

We recognise that there is more to do with regards to the management of sewage pollution. Rebecca Pow MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defra, has met water company CEOs and made clear that the volume of sewage discharged into rivers and other waterways in extreme weather must be reduced. To achieve this, Defra has established the Storm Overflows Taskforce, bringing together representatives from Government, the water industry, regulators and environmental non-governmental organisations to set out clear proposals to accelerate progress in tackling this issue.

This Taskforce has agreed a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows and has taken steps to improve monitoring and transparency. Eliminating harm from storm overflows is a generational endeavour that will involve significant change and it will take time to achieve, but the Government is determined to accelerate efforts towards this goal. The Taskforce is now working on plans to start making progress towards this goal and has commissioned research to gather evidence on the costs, benefits and feasibility of different options.

On 29 March, the Government also announced new measures would be put into law to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows. Three key duties will be made law:

· A duty on Government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows and to reduce their impact;

· A duty on Government to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the plan;

· A duty on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.

You can read more about this announcement at:

These legally-binding obligations on water companies and the Government will reduce pollution in rivers and will therefore protect wildlife and public health.

Alongside these new duties, water companies have agreed to make available real-time data on sewage discharges from storm overflows at designated bathing waters all year round from this year. This data will be made available to help surfers, swimmers and other recreational water users to check the latest information and make informed choices on where to swim.

In addition to these new measures, water companies are already committed to an existing £1.1 billion programme of action in the current five-year business planning period (2020 to 2025) to improve the monitoring and management of storm overflows. This includes the installation of monitoring devices on the vast majority of storm overflows, 800 investigations and 798 improvement schemes to storm overflows.

Water companies have also committed to accelerate work to install monitoring devices to create a complete picture of the impact of storm overflows by 2023. This will help us to understand the impacts of storm overflows at all sites and to target improvements to where they are needed.

Finally, water companies are currently producing comprehensive Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans to assess the capacity of and risks to their wastewater networks over a 25-year planning horizon. We are also taking steps through the Environment Bill to place these Plans on a statutory basis. They will be another tool to help address the risks that storm overflows pose to the environment.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Other parliamentary business

MPs examine water quality in rivers

A group of MPs called the Environmental Audit Committee is investigating water quality in rivers.

The Committee is particularly interested in urban pollution, and the responsibilities of water companies. It is taking evidence on topics including the best ways of measuring river water quality, the impact of plastic pollution, and how consumers can be encouraged to change their behaviour to help reduce pollution.

So far the MPs have questioned expert academics, non-governmental environmental organisations and environmental campaigners, in two evidence sessions the Committee has held as part of its wider inquiry.

Find out more about the Committee's inquiry, including details of the sessions held so far, on its website:

Follow the Committee on Twitter for updates:

What is the Environmental Audit Committee?

The Environmental Audit Committee is a group of MPs which examines how the UK Government's policies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development.

It's a cross-party Committee and is independent of the Government. You can find out more about the Committee on the UK Parliament website:
The Environmental Audit Committee is a ‘select committee’. Find out how Select Committees work:

Government announces measures to reduce sewage discharged into waterways

On Wednesday 26 May, the House of Commons debated the Government's Environment Bill, which would introduce new laws on the natural environment and environmental protection.

You can watch the debate back here:

You can read the transcript of the debate in the House of Commons here:

Ahead of the debate, the Government announced plans to introduce changes to the Bill relating to sewage discharges into rivers. These would impose new legal duties on the Government and water companies to take action on this issue.

Specifically, the Government has said it plans to introduce a duty on government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows, and to report to Parliament on progress on implementing this plan. It also plans to introduce a duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.

You can read more about the Government's plans to reduce sewage discharge into waterways here:

The Bill will now be considered by the House of Lords, where the Government has said these new provisions will be added to the Bill. You can find out more about the Bill, and the timetable for when it is next due to be debated in Parliament, here:

Find out more about how Parliamentary debates work:

Share your views on reducing sewage discharges in England with the Government

The Government has launched a public consultation to help develop a plan to reduce sewage discharges into rivers and other bodies of water from storm overflows in England.

Find out more about the consultation, and share your views:

The consultation is open until 11.45pm on 12 May 2022.

The Government is required to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows in England. It has said its plan will include new targets for water companies to reduce their reliance on storm overflows and tackle the ecological and public health harm caused by these discharges.

This consultation seeks views on these targets and other elements of the plan ahead of its publication.

Once the consultation has closed, the Government will publish a summary of the responses and next steps on the GOV.UK website:

Who is running the consultation?

The consultation is being run by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). DEFRA is responsible for government policy on environmental improvement and protection in England. The devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are responsible for environmental policy in those nations.

Find out more about what DEFRA does:

Get involved in the work of the UK Parliament

Sign up to the Your UK Parliament newsletter for the latest information on how to get involved and make a difference:

Plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows published by Government

On 26 August the Government published a plan to reduce the discharge of sewage from storm overflows by water companies, together with its response to the consultation it held on this issue earlier this year.

The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan sets new targets for water companies, working with regulators and the Government, to reduce and eventually eliminate ecological and public health harms from storm overflows.

The Government says the Plan will require water companies to take actions in order to tackle storm sewage discharges by 2050, including:

  • Reducing the volume of discharges
  • Treating sewage before it is discharged
  • Delivering £56 billion of investment in environmental infrastructure

Specifically, water companies will have to:

  • Improve all overflows discharging into or near designated bathing water, and 75% of overflows discharging to high priority ecological sites, by 2035
  • Ensure no storm overflows are operating outside of unusually heavy rainfall, or causing any adverse ecological harm, by 2050

Failure to meet these targets could see companies fined or forced to return money to customers.

The Government has said it will review how the Plan is working, and the targets in the Plan, in 2027.

Who has published the Plan?

The Plan was developed and published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This is the Government department responsible for improving and protecting the environment, as well as issues affecting rural communities and the agriculture, fishing, and food and drink sectors.

DEFRA only has direct responsibility for environmental policy in England, but works closely with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are responsible for policy in those nations.

Get involved in the work of the UK Parliament

Sign up to the UK Parliament newsletter for the latest information on how to get involved and make a difference.