Another year of abuse for our rivers: 372,000 incidents of raw sewage spills in 2021

Data released by the Environment Agency today (31st March) shows water companies are continuing to abuse our rivers with very little change in the amount of times they discharged raw sewage from storm overflows in the past 12 months.

They did so 372,500 times in 2021, compared to 400,000 in 2020., while the average spill per overflow went from 33 in 2020 to 29 in 2021. When you account for the variables in the weather over the two years, this is in effect no change at all. Figures also showed that sewage from storm overflows was released into rivers for a total of 2.6 million hours in 2021.

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

“These figures from the Environment Agency show that water companies continue to abuse our rivers. They have been released on the same day as the government launches its consultation on managing discharges from storm overflows. If another 372,500 spills on top of the 400,000 spills in 2020 doesn’t scream for action to be taken now, then I’d like to know what does. We cannot wait to 2050 to fix this problem. Our rivers are dying before our eyes.

“We know the Environment Agency are currently investigating water companies for breaking the law. While this is welcome, we cannot wait for the years it takes for the Environment Agency to decide whether to prosecute companies or not. This dire situation is the result of water companies being able to simply get away with it. We need more funding for the EA, more monitoring, and more leadership to hold these companies to account.”

One in five storm overflows the EA monitors spilled on more than 60 occasions across 2021, one in 20 on more than 100 occasions. This should have triggered an automatic investigation into the cases by the EA but, once more, that does not seem to be happening.

Stuart Singleton-White added:

“All of England’s water companies will boast about the work they do as part of their corporate responsibility programme. But such wanton disregard for our rivers and the fish and wildlife that depend on them, is corporate irresponsibility on a massive scale. We call on water companies to not wait for the government to issue its final report on storm overflows in September this year, and to not simply meet the deadlines the government will set. That will not be enough. Water companies need to do a lot more, and they need to do it a lot faster.”


Environment Agency’s Storm Overflows Monitoring Annual Returns

Consultation on the Government’s Storm Overflow Reduction Plan

Angling Trust and Salmon & Trout Conservation’s Time to Fix the Broken Water Sector report

More information on the Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution campaign

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