In contrast to misleading and false assertions made recently, the simple truth is that this Conservative Government is the first to set out our expectation that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. We are now delivering the largest programme to tackle storm sewage discharges in history.
Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan
Our Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan will revolutionise how water companies tackle the number of discharges of untreated sewage. Water companies will face strict limits on when they can use storm overflows and must eliminate the harm any sewage discharge causes to the environment under our plans.
By 2035, the environmental impacts of 3,000 storm overflows (75%) will have been eliminated. There will be 70% fewer discharges into bathing waters. By 2040, approximately 160,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated and by 2050, approximately 320,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated. Water companies will be encouraged to accelerate these timelines wherever possible.
The Government expects costs on water companies to deliver this programme will reduce through innovation, better asset management and maintenance, and identifying more effective local solutions. We will monitor the delivery programme, and the Government will not hesitate to set faster delivery timelines for targets if delivery costs reduce.
The Government and regulators will act against those companies who do not meet expectations. Our new monitoring and reporting framework as legislated for in the Environment Act will significantly improve the enforcement ability of both Ofwat and the Environment Agency.
It is government’s expectation that Ofwat and the water industry will prioritise appropriate action to enhance water quality and deliver a resilient and sustainable water supply. We expect Ofwat to challenge water companies to prioritise improvements to protected sites and recognise the importance of priority habitats such as chalk streams.
Environment Act Water Targets
We have committed to restoring three quarters of our water bodies to be close to their natural state as soon as possible. We have also committed, in the 25 Year Environment Plan, to increasing supply and improving the efficiency of water usage, including the amount used by individuals and households. To make progress towards these ambitions, the Government is proposing targets to improve water quality and availability by 2037. We will reduce nutrient pollution by reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution from agriculture to the water environment by 40%; and reducing phosphorus loadings from treated wastewater by 80%.
We will reduce the length of rivers and estuaries polluted by metals from abandoned mines by 50%. These targets will act as powerful tools to deliver cleaner water, increase biodiversity and protect the water environment for future generations. These pollution targets will ensure national and local action to combat major pressures on the water environment, increasing the pace and ambition of the Government’s existing interventions and sending a clear message to industry about what is expected of them. The target to reduce water demand will encourage more efficient and sustainable use of fresh water by businesses, water suppliers, and communities.
Since 2015 the Environment Agency has brought 48 prosecutions against water companies, securing fines of over £137 million. Some of the biggest fines were imposed last year, including a record £90 million fine for Southern Water in July for thousands of illegal discharges, making clear that polluters will be made to pay for damage to the environment. In addition, between 2020 and 2025, water companies are investing £7.1 billion to protect and improve the environment. Of this, £3.1 billion is being invested specifically in storm overflow improvements.
I hope you will agree with me that this is a comprehensive and robust plan of action to drastically improve our water quality across this country, and nothing like what the opposition want you to believe. As your Member of Parliament I will always do my utmost to protect and preserve our precious environment and will always strongly refute accusations to the contrary.