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The vast majority of the population is outraged by the amount of sewage being pumped into rivers and seas around the UK. Now, there are rumours that the government has delayed their strategy to tackle the issue.
Pollution in our local rivers can come from a number of sources. Ironically, one of them is Anglian Water which also extracts water from these same rivers to provide a water supply for domestic and commercial use.
Anglian Water repeatedly discharges treated, and untreated sewage into rivers, and this is not by accident. In 2020, the company pumped raw sewage into rivers in our region 17,428 times, for 170,547 hours.
Sewage isn’t the only problem. In 2016, Anglian Water suffered a fire at a pumping house, and whilst this was an accident, around ten kilometres of the River Wid in Essex experienced high levels of ammonia for three days. In total, over 5,400 fish were found to have died during this time, with invertebrates affected in almost five kilometres of the river. The company was fined £300,000.
The environmental damage to rivers and the wider ecology of an area by our water companies is just one factor, with further damage also being caused to the commercial and pleasure use of a river, potentially destroying local history.
Earlier this year, when addressing concerns over pollution in the river Wensum in Norwich, Annelise Savill, cub scout leader at the 8th Norwich Sea Scouts, said she was worried the pollution could affect the health of the young people and adults in her organisation who use the river. “I was shocked to learn of the levels of pollution, and I was worried, so we have contacted everyone.”
Previous attempts to limit the discharge of waste have been politically charged, with original legislation being voted down by conservative MPs in October of last year, only for a compromise to be voted through in November following a public outcry.
At the time, campaigners for clean water said they were disappointed that what they viewed as a less stringent amendment had been approved. They said the government’s compromise was too weak and did not impose a legal duty on water companies to stop releasing raw sewage into waterways.
However, Rebecca Pow, an environment minister at the time but who would be one of many to leave their role in July 2022, told MPs that the government’s amendment did place a clear legal duty on water companies to deliver improvements to storm overflows. She said the government had taken its wording from the Lords amendment, which was supported by 22 Tory rebels last week, to place a duty on water firms in England to progressively reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows.
This brings us to the current situation, where Ministers had proposed to publish a strategy on how to deal with storm runoff and similar pollution by September of this year. However, there are now reports that this has been delayed, with the Telegraph indicating that it will be released ‘in due course’, only for another source to indicate, in response to the reporting, that it will be published ‘shortly’.
With the recent announcements of a drought in East Anglia, with falling river levels being monitored to the point they may stop extraction, the health of the rivers themselves has never been more important, or at risk.