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Closed petition Give the Environment Agency the funds and freedom to protect English rivers

The Government must reverse years of cuts to Agency budgets, increase charges for polluters, and give the Agency freedom from overly business-friendly Government codes and guidance, so it can pursue and achieve its principal statutory objective to protect and enhance English rivers

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Over 10% of freshwater species are threatened with extinction and two thirds are in decline, including salmon. Only 14% of rivers are at good ecological status. 26% of groundwater bodies are at poor status. 40% of rivers suffer pollution from rural areas. Pollution incidents, caused by agriculture and water companies, occur routinely with almost no response from the Agency. Too little monitoring, inspection, enforcement and prosecution of existing pollution law.

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Government responded

This response was given on 17 December 2021

The Government recognises the importance of protecting the natural environment and are investing accordingly to progress our 25 Year Environment Plan and its commitment to clean and plentiful water.

Read the response in full

We are determined to build back greener following the pandemic and progress our 25 Year Environment Plan and its commitment to clean and plentiful water.

The Government recognises the importance of protecting the nation's natural environment and we are investing accordingly.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Spending Review settlement provides a £4.3 billion cash increase over the rest of this Parliament to £7 billion in 2024-25.

The settlement will allow us to deliver on the Government’s ambitious environmental agenda to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, achieve Net Zero by 2050, increase resilience to flooding and coastal erosion, support innovation and progress the levelling up agenda.

The settlement delivers against the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan for nature’s recovery and includes more than £250 million in public investment over three years to include, among other things, tackling nutrient pollution in rivers and streams.

The Spending Review 2021 also sets a stretching new target to raise at least £500 million in private finance for nature’s recovery every year by 2027 and more than £1 billion a year by 2030.

The Government has taken powers in the Environment Act 2021 to create new, legally-binding targets in four priority areas including water. These new targets will be an important mechanism to drive environmental improvement and meet our ambitious objectives for the water environment in the 25 Year Environment Plan.

The Act places clear duties on water and sewerage companies to progressively reduce the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows and improve transparency of reporting when discharges occur.

The Environment Agency is driving transparency with 80% of storm overflows now having Event Duration Monitors and all overflows will be monitored by the end of 2023, allowing water companies to report the frequency and duration of spills to the Environment Agency (EA) each year so they can assess compliance. The Environment Agency is acting on new information, suggesting that some water companies in England may indeed not be complying with their permits and a major Environment Agency/Ofwat investigation has been launched.

We are committed to funding the EA to improve the water environment. For example, we are providing additional funding to the EA to increase their farm inspection regime nationwide over the next 18 months. In 2021/2 this includes an expectation of a fourfold increase in farm inspections undertaken nationally with plans to scale up further in 2022/3.

Whilst necessary to uphold basic standards, enforcement of the regulations alone are not sufficient because farmers need advice to understand the risks posed to water by agriculture and funding support where actions beyond regulatory requirements are needed to reduce pollution further.

We are expanding the Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme, almost doubling its funding by providing an additional £17 million over the next three years to enable it to cover 100% of farms in England. Over the last 15 years this programme has been one of the main ways to help farmers tackle pollution which results from manure, fertiliser and soil running off into rivers when it rains. It provides free 1-2-1 advice to farmers to help them reduce water and air pollution through management of nutrients, soils, animals and infrastructure among other things.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Rivers are at risk from a “chemical cocktail” of sewage, slurry and plastic, say MPs

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee have published a report on water quality in rivers.

Read an interactive summary of the report: https://ukparliament.shorthandstories.com/river-water-quality/index.html

Read the full report: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5802/cmselect/cmenvaud/74/summary.html

In the report, the Committee said that poor water quality in English rivers is a result of underinvestment and failures in monitoring, governance, and enforcement of regulations. Not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.

The Committee also called on the Government to:

• Extend the number of substances the Environment Agency monitors in rivers.

• Review self-monitoring by water companies. Water companies appear to be dumping untreated or partially treated sewage in rivers regularly, often breaching the terms of permits that only allow this in exceptional circumstances.

• Actively encourage the designation of at least one widely-used stretch of river for bathing in each water company area by 2025.

• Ban the use of plastic in wet wipes and other single-use hygiene products.

What happens next?

The Government now must respond to the Committee's report, which was published on 13 January 2022, within two months. The Committee will publish the Government’s response here: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/62/environmental-audit-committee/.

What is the Environmental Audit Committee?

The Environmental Audit Committee is a cross-party group of non-Government MPs who look into how Government policies and departments contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development.

Find out more about the Committee: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/62/environmental-audit-committee/

Follow the Committee on Twitter for updates on its work: https://twitter.com/CommonsEAC

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.

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