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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if he will hold discussions with the Environmental Agency on reducing levels of raw sewage discharged into (a) main and (b) non-main rivers by water companies.
Ministers hold regular discussions with the Environment Agency (EA), on all environmental issues including water quality. My officials also regularly meet with their EA colleagues to discuss waste water management, including sewage discharges.
In England, the majority of the sewerage system is ‘combined’, meaning that sewage is collected along with rain water run-off. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in the sewerage system operate to reduce the risk of sewer flooding of homes and land during heavy rainfall. To prevent discharges, between 2015 to 2020 water companies are installing monitors on up to 13,000 of the 15,000 CSOs in England. These will measure how often and for how long they operate, helping inform where improvement works may be required and providing information to the public about spills. This information has been used to help develop the environmental programme that the water companies will be implementing over the next five years, which includes almost £4 billion of investment to reduce pollution from sewage.
All discharges from CSOs require a permit issued by the EA, containing conditions to protect the environment. The EA has the powers to take action if water companies breach their permits and cause harm to the environment.