Defra’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan falls short, says conservation group

wastewater discharge

“We are appalled to see that Defra’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan has not taken into account the thousands of responses to the draft consultation which called for much more ambitious targets, and still reflects far too little, too late,” said a statement from The Rivers Trust, following the plan’s long-awaited publication on 26 August. “Far from revolutionising the sewer system, as the plan claims, this plan aims to claw its way back to what should have already been ‘business as usual’ by 2050 – with sewer overflows operating only during exceptional events by that time.”

“This should be the current situation, and yet we are living with 2.6 million hours of overspills in England. Sadly, the fact that our water and sewage sector have been so poorly regulated over the last couple of decades is only now surpassed by the government’s lack of ambition and clarity for the sector.”

Christine Colvin, Advocacy & Engagement Director, said: “The requirement for this plan in the Environment Act gave government a great opportunity to right the wrongs on weak regulation and get on the front foot. It should have presented an open goal for a fresh start to stop sewage pollution in my lifetime, instead they’ve scored an own goal. The government has even stopped engaging with its own taskforce, which has neither been given the results of the consultation, nor invited to advise further on how the plan could have been strengthened.

“Whilst we have seen some more detail on the enabling mechanisms that are needed to keep stormwater out of sewers such as more support for nature-based solutions, the plan falls short of setting targets for action that is desperately needed to enable a radical rethink of how the resource is currently being managed.”

“Yet again we see government deferring to the water companies’ figures on potential cost increases as a justification for weak action. There are growing calls from the public, the Environmental Audit Committee and the EA on the need to curb bonuses and dividends, rather than passing costs on to the consumer. This plan feigns ignorance of that important debate.”

Whilst we are disappointed by the targets set out in this plan, we remain determined to hold the government, regulators, and water industry to account.

Rob Collins, Director for Policy & Science, added: “We will continue to argue for: the designation of further inland bathing waters; better management of rainwater; and ringfenced protection for SSSIs and SACs, and chalk streams. Finally, we want to see assurance that improvements or upgrades to the sewerage system will be adequately maintained, so this crisis is not repeated in generations to come.”