Sewage: Waste Disposal

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 22nd April 2022.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether UK law prohibits water companies from discharging untreated sewage into waterways and coastal regions outside periods of heavy rainfall.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Environment Agency in England have a duty under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations to issue environmental permits to water companies under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016, to limit pollution of receiving waters by storm water overflows.

Environmental Permits for storm water overflows contain conditions which only allow a discharge to occur when and for as long as rainfall or snow melt reaches the capacity of the sewer. Any breach of the terms or conditions of an environmental permit is a criminal offence. In each case the Environment Agency will consider all of the circumstances surrounding a breach and apply its published Enforcement and Sanctions policy. This can be found at: Environment Agency enforcement and sanctions policy - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). The Environment Agency is currently investigating several claims of permit breaches and will use the full force of the law should breaches be confirmed.

This Government has made improving water quality a priority and has been clear that water companies must significantly reduce their use of sewage overflows. This includes a duty on water companies to progressively reduce their use in the Environment Act. The Government is building on the existing regulatory regime and the proposed targets published as part of the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan consultation will, for the first time, provide a clear definition for 'limit pollution' and will represent the largest investment and delivery programme to tackle storm sewage discharges in history. If we do not see the changes we expect, we won’t hesitate to take further action.

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