Home Business News Regulators could have broken international law by allowing sewage discharge

Regulators could have broken international law by allowing sewage discharge

by LLB staff reporter
12th Sep 23 12:17 pm

The government watchdog has said that regulators could have breached international law by allowing water companies to discharge sewage.

Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) are only allowed in exceptional circumstances when there has been unusually heavy rain to stop the system from flooding people’s homes with sewage.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency (EA) and Ofwat may misunderstood the law by allowing water firms to pollute waterways in England.

Sewage discharge can damage the river ecosystems which are toxic and could help the rapid growth of algae, which can cause E. colie and fever for swimmers.

Helen Venn, the OEP’s chief regulatory officer, said: “The guidance provided by Government to regulators, and the permitting regime they put in place for the water companies, possibly allow untreated sewage discharges to occur more regularly than intended by the law without risk of sanction.

“This is what has created the possible failures to comply that we have identified.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “The volume of sewage discharged is completely unacceptable.

“That is why we are the first government in history to take such comprehensive action to tackle it, driving forward more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement – and it’s why we are introducing a legally binding target to reduce storm overflows.

“While we do not agree with the OEP’s initial interpretations, which cover points of law spanning over two decades, we will continue to work constructively with the OEP on this issue.”

An Ofwat spokesperson said: “Our position at Ofwat remains clear – water companies’ performance on the environment is simply not good enough.

“We have pushed companies to take urgent action to cut sewage discharges, have imposed fines of £250 million in the last few years alone and we are currently running our biggest ever investigation into six companies on how they manage sewage treatment works and sewage discharges.

“We will keep pushing for the change and the improvements that the public rightly expects and where we can learn lessons or do things better, we will do so.”

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