We are already working with our partners to take action to protect and enhance chalk streams, which are precious habitats. That includes reforming abstraction, improving water quality through the Environment Agency’s water industry national environment programme and legislating to support those measures. However, as I said at a roundtable that I ran this week with water companies, chalk streams are vital. We have to do something to look after them, and we will be hosting a conference on this on 16 October.
I am grateful for that reply. Last year, water companies discharged sewage into our precious chalk streams and rivers in North West Norfolk and across the country 200,000 times. I welcome my hon. Friend’s efforts to tackle that unacceptable level. Will she instruct the Environment Agency to take more enforcement action, and will she commit that the new powers in the Environment Bill will be used to set tough, legally binding targets?
We know that effective regulation is the key to preventing pollution from impacting on water quality. That is why a range of enforcement and sanction options are open to the Environment Agency, which we expect to be used wherever necessary. We also expect water companies to set out how they will manage sewerage discharges through drainage and wastewater management plans. However, I acknowledge that further action is necessary, particularly on sewage pollution and combined sewage outlets. I referenced that at the roundtable earlier this week, and more work will be going on.