Anglers demand more than simply counting condoms in rivers clean-up

Anglers and river campaigners have reacted with disappointment to today’s ‘over-hyped’ announcement from the government on the recommendations of their joint task force on sewage discharges which promises little more than counting pollution incidents rather than doing anything about them.

The DEFRA press notice proclaims:

“Water companies have agreed to make real-time data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round, meaning surfers, swimmers and other water users can check the latest information – especially after heavy rainfall. Water companies will also accelerate work to install monitoring devices to create a complete picture of their activity by 2023.”  Read press notice here

Whilst the Storm Overflows Taskforce, made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK, has agreed to set a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows no timescale or plan of action has been agreed.

Data already released show that too many of our rivers are impacted by pollution. In 2019 water companies released raw sewage into local rivers for more than 1.5 million hours. In September 2020 data from the Environment Agency revealed that not a single river in England achieved good chemical status and only 14% were classed as being of good ecological status.

The now postponed The Sewage (Inland Waters) Private Members Bill, introduced by Phillip Dunne MP, sought to place a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters. The Bill received strong backing from environment groups and the Angling Trust as part of their ‘Anglers Against Pollution’ campaign.

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

“Anglers are often the first people to know when sewage pollution incidents occur and the Angling Trust and Fish Legal spend a huge amount of time and resources fighting this threat to our rivers and taking polluters to court on behalf of our members. We are big supporters of the Phillip Dunne Bill to prevent the discharge of untreated sewage and there is no doubt that the water industry needs to clean up its act.

“Laudable as these task force aspirations are they don’t mean an awful lot without a massive increase in capital investment by the water companies to significantly increase capacity at their treatment works so that they can properly treat or store all effluent even at times of heavy rainfalls. This requires more than warm words. It needs a sea change in attitude by both the government and the industry regulator Ofwat. You can’t clean up our rivers on the cheap. They have to release the investment that time and again consumers have said they want to see happen to deliver a better environment.”

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

“The commitment to publish real time data on sewage discharges at a handful of bathing water sites is all very well but what about the hundreds of other rivers, including internationally significant chalk streams, that are polluted every year by storm overflows? This information is already publicly available from water companies as we have demonstrated through our use of Environmental Information Regulations so let’s not pretend that somehow its publication is akin to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.”

Angling Trust Ambassador and rivers campaigner Feargal Sharkey was equally sceptical saying:

“I had absolutely no expectations whatsoever for DEFRA’s Sewage Taskforce and I have not been disappointed.

“In 2019, on 200,000 separate occasions, water companies were dumping sewage into our rivers. We know this for a fact. What we needed to see from government was action – instead what we got was simply more time to count used sanitary products, human waste, wet wipes and condoms sailing down our rivers.”

Fish Legal Solicitor Justin Neal said:

“The water companies are already under obligations to publish much of this data. But as we know from Ofwat’s investigation of Southern Water a few years ago, we aren’t always getting the real picture. At the heart of the problem is the Operator Self Monitoring regime where the polluter checks its own records. What we need is a wholesale change from the Environment Agency and Defra. The time has come for Ofwat and the EA to deliver  proper regulation which is a whole lot more than an accounting exercise.”

Useful link:

Phillip Dunne Bill

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