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Discharge of Untreated Sewage

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 23 June 2022

12. What steps he is taking to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers, inland waterways and the sea. (900685)

This Government are the first to set out our expectation that water companies must take significant steps to reduce storm sewage overflows. Through the Environment Act 2021 we have set a legal duty on water companies to reduce discharges and enhance monitoring, and we have just consulted on the largest programme in history to tackle storm overflows. Sadly, the hon. Gentleman’s party voted against these measures in the Environment Bill.

The Environmental Audit Committee recently recommended that Ministers tackle water pollution by setting a stretching timetable for progressive reduction in sewage overflows. However, under the storm overflow discharge reduction plan, half the storm overflows would still be spilling untreated sewage in 2040. This is totally unacceptable to my constituents, who have every right to expect clean and healthy waterways. Will the Government show some ambition and commit to a target of 100% of sewage outflows in priority areas not causing ecological harm by 2030?

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the storm overflow discharge reduction plan, which we will publish in September. A huge amount of scientific research is informing this, and we have set a revolutionary system in place that will tackle these storm sewage overflows. We also have to be mindful of the cost of this on water bills, but we are certainly tackling the worst areas first—bathing waters and protected sites. We have a very sound system in place to deal with this once and for all, and the water companies have to clean up their act.

Windermere is England’s biggest lake, and the beautiful weather this week has attracted huge numbers of swimmers to its shores, but people are being advised by conservationists not to swim or let their dogs in the water due to the amount of raw sewage being pumped into it by United Utilities. However, the official figures report that the Environment Agency claims that the amount of untreated sewage has reduced and there were no spills last year. Will the Minister admit that the reporting system is broken and take urgent steps to ensure that there is reliable monitoring so that people can enjoy beautiful Lake Windermere?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, but that is why we have a very sound system in place through the Environment Act and through our directions to Ofwat, the regulator, to tackle this area. It is why event duration monitoring will be in all storm overflows by 2023. It is why we have such an important and comprehensive system of monitoring and reporting back on when these storm overflows are being used. It is why we are tackling the water quality above and below storm sewage overflows so that we can demonstrate what is happening and action can be taken—and action will be taken on the water companies; we make absolutely no bones about that at all.