Sewage spills in England fell by almost a fifth last year, figures show – but the Environment Agency (EA) says this was not because of actions taken by water companies.
A total of 301,091 spills were recorded last year – 824 a day on average – according to EA data covering all 10 water and sewerage companies in England.
The figure for 2021 was 372,533 – an average of 1,020 a day.
The EA said the decrease in spills last year was “largely down to dry weather, not water company action”.
It urged water companies to improve the maintenance, management and investment of their systems.
“We want to see quicker progress from water companies on reducing spills and acting on monitoring data,” the EA’s executive director John Leyland said.
“We expect them to be fully across the detail of their networks and to maintain and invest in them to the high standard that the public expect and the regulator demands.”
Water companies should only discharge sewage from storm overflows during periods of heavy rain and under strictly permitted conditions.
However campaigners say they are discharging much more often than they should, including when there has been no rain.
Water minister Rebecca Pow said: “The volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is unacceptable and we are taking action to make sure polluters are held to account.
“By bringing in comprehensive monitoring – up from just 7% in 2010 to the most extensive level ever now being at 91% – this government and its regulators have enabled the extent of sewage discharges to be revealed so that we are better equipped to tackle this challenge.”
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More than 13,320 storm overflows were monitored to produce the EA’s data, and 3% were found to have spilt more than 100 times over the year, compared with 5% in 2021.
On average, each overflow spilled 23 times over the year – compared with 29 times in 2021.
Some 18% of storm overflows did not spill at all, compared with 13% the previous year.
Just over nine in 10 storm overflows are currently providing data, marginally up from 89% in 2021. The EA has demanded that water companies fit monitors on all storm overflows by the end of 2023.
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Jim McMahon MP, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “That the Tories continue to give the green light to 824 raw sewage discharges a day into villages, towns and cities across our country shows they have no respect for British communities.
“People should be able to just enjoy where they live, work and holiday without having to worry about the Tory sewage scandal sullying their areas. Local businesses shouldn’t have to worry about government failures hitting tourism trade.”
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