Government Water Statement must overhaul ‘creaking and leaking’ sewage infrastructure

From the Angling Trust

The Government’s Strategic Policy Statement (SPS) for water, laid before Parliament today (February 2nd), urges water companies to do more to protect the environment. But the Angling Trust has expressed concern that the guidance given to the water regulator OFWAT could fall well short of what will be needed to end the scandal of untreated sewage polluting the nation’s rivers.

The SPS claims to want to see “protecting the environment” placed at the heart of OFWAT’s strategic priorities and “urges” water companies “to do more…”

However, it fails to signal the need for the step change required in investment in outdated waste water infrastructure which has resulted in record levels of discharges in untreated sewage from facilities that can no longer meet demand. (400,000 times in 2020 – up from 293,000 in 2919).

Simply urging water companies to tackle pollution isn’t enough and leaves them far too much room for manoeuvre. The Angling Trust believes the Government should be demanding that water companies do more to protect the environment and this should become the number one priority for OFWAT over the next five years.

These were the conclusion of the Angling Trust, who along with Salmon & Trout Conservation, set out what was needed in a major report, Time to Fix the Broken Water Sector. (see notes)

Martin Salter, Head of Policy at the Angling Trust, said:

“We were hoping for more than warm words in this water policy statement and a bit of restating the pollution monitoring provisions that are already in the Environment Act. This is the Government’s opportunity not just to will the end of pollution but to actually deliver the means by getting OFWAT to allow much needed investment to flow into England’s creaking and leaking waste water infrastructure.

“As our studies have shown, the absurdly low replacement rate of sewerage pipelines is resulting in more discharge of untreated sewage into rivers and coastal areas. Hardly surprising when pipes, designed for 50 to 100 years of service, are expected to last for 2,000 years.”

He added:

“Defra have themselves  admitted that water industry investment has not kept pace with the increase in demand and the impacts of climate change. They said last January that ‘climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades’. This SPS is a once in a five year opportunity to instruct the industry to put that right.”

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said:

 “If, as Minister Pow has stated, ‘water quality is an absolute priority’ then we’re going to need radical and rapid change in the management and governance of our water sector.  The Government are, at last, beginning to see the connections between sewage pollution, the alarming consequences of agriculture pollution and run-off, the need for sustainable water abstraction, and the need to protect precious and unique habitats, like our chalk streams.  This SPS is a chance to drive all these issues forward.  It remains to be seen if it is strong enough to do so.”