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Sewage dumping stinks

March 16, 2022 5:14 PM
By Tim Farron
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

England's rivers and lakes are in a terrible condition due to sewage discharges.

Water companies are responsible for this mess, not consumers.

Water companies discharged raw sewage into our rivers and lakes 400,000 times in 2020. That's the equivalent of 3 million hours of discharges.

This is particularly worrying given the increases in the use of our waterways by wild swimmers, paddle-boarders, kayakers and canoeists.

Just 14% of UK rivers are in a good state, and more than half of England's rivers failed to pass cleanliness tests.

The Conservatives have failed to tackle the sewage problem; they watered down proposals to reduce sewage discharges in the Environment Bill. While this Government eventually caved to pressure and amended the Environment Act to do something about sewage discharges, it was nowhere near enough.

Water companies discharged raw sewage into our rivers and lakes 400,000 times in 2020.

The Government's proposals have no meaningful targets or timescales for reducing sewage discharges by water companies and sets no duties on water companies to clean up the mess they've already made.

Water companies are responsible for this mess, not consumers. Bill payers should not be paying to clean up the mess.

In our new policy voted for by members at the Spring Conference, Liberal Democrats are calling for:

  • a Sewage Tax to force water companies to contribute from their massive profits to cleaning up the damage caused by sewage discharges.
  • reducing the number of licences the Environment Agency gives to water companies permitting them to discharge raw sewage into waterways.
  • setting meaningful targets and deadlines for water companies to end sewage discharges into waterways.
  • adding local environmental groups onto water companies boards, to support water companies in their duties to protect and enhance the environment.
  • The promotion of a "public benefit company" model for water companies, so that particular economic and environmental policy objectives are also considered when running the company rather than just a return for shareholders.

Read the full motion

In 2020, water companies made £2 billion in profit - a Sewage Tax would have raised £340 million to help clean up our rivers.

Water companies would be prevented from passing the cost of the Sewage Tax onto consumers by Ofwat.

The Conservatives have allowed water companies to pollute our waterways with raw sewage for far too long. It's time to stop them.