The government has published a plan to reduce sewage discharges into England’s rivers and seas, promising “the strictest targets ever”.
The water companies will have to deliver the “biggest infrastructure program in the history of water companies”, he says.
Last week, pollution alerts were in effect on nearly 50 beaches after heavy rains prompted water companies to discharge untreated sewage.
Liberal Democrats called the new plan a “cruel joke”.
They said consumers would pay for “the mess made by the water companies”.
Water companies dumped untreated sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times in 2020, according to official figures.
Liberal Democrats called the administration’s targets “fragile”, predicting they would still allow 325,000 sewage dumps a year in 2030.
The plan will require water companies to invest £56bn over 25 years in improving infrastructure.
It also states that by 2035 water companies will have to “improve all storm overflows discharging into or near all designated bathing waters; and improve 75% of overflows discharging at high priority natural locations.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Between now and 2025, water companies will invest £3bn in order to reduce the use of storm surges by 25%.
“There are 15,000 storm overflows, we’ve had them since the Victorian era, they’ve always been there as an emergency release valve when you have extreme rainfall, but they’re starting in some cases to be used too often.”
Eustice said it was “unfortunate” that the issue has not been addressed in the last 40 or 50 years.
He said there would be a “modest increase in water bills over time” as a result of the announced action, but it would be a “price people would be willing to pay”.
“There will be no changes to water bills until at least 2025 and between that date and 2030 the average annual increase in water bills will be around £12.”
There is a major investigation underway by the Environment Agency and industry regulator Ofwat into how all wastewater companies manage their treatment jobs.
Enforcement cases are being prosecuted against South West Water, Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water.
Public anger over the continued discharges has been growing in recent weeks as reports of sewage pollution have increased.
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Tim Farron criticized the plans, saying that “by 2030 there will still be 325,000 dumps a year in our waterways.”
“By the time these soft targets go into effect, our beaches would already be filled with disgusting sewage.”
Water quality activist Fergal Sharkey called the plan “an end-to-end mess”. He said this would allow water companies to “continue dumping sewage into our rivers.”
He said water companies should invest more in infrastructure.
Regarding the price increases, he said consumers are being asked to “pay a second time” to clean England’s waterways.
Jim McMahon, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the Labor Party, said: “Instead of governing, it is clear that the Conservatives have started writing fiction, as this document is not a plan nor does it eliminate the dumping of sewage in Under the government’s weak improvement ‘target’, based on last year’s data, we would face another 4.8 million sewage spill events in our country between now and 2035.
“Last year, Conservative lawmakers were given the opportunity to pass significant action into law but blocked measures that would progressively eliminate the discharge of raw sewage into our natural environment.
A spokesperson for South West Water said: “We welcome the Government’s Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan to improve the water sector’s infrastructure network and improve the health of our rivers and seas. 2 billion between 2020 and 2025, with most of the investment going to improve our wastewater assets and environmental performance.”
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