Polluting rivers is 'unacceptable' says Huntingdon MP amid sewage vote
- Credit: Geoff Soden/Jonathan Djanogly
Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly has defended his decision to vote against the Government's Amendment Bill aimed at forcing water companies to reduce the amount of sewage being pumped into rivers and waterways.
Conservative MPs, including Mr Djanogly, faced widespread criticism for voting down an amendment that would have stopped the discharge of raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters.
A proposal from the Lords to the Environment Bill would have placed legal duties on the companies to reduce discharges and was defeated by 265 MPs' votes to 202 last week. The vote attracted anger from environmentalist groups and members of the public across England.
Mr Djanogly told The Hunts Post he supports “a package of measures” that will set out drainage and sewerage management plans, create three new duties on water companies and monitor water quality.
Mr Djanogly said: “Let me be clear, the amount of sewage discharge by water companies into our rivers is unacceptable; water companies must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority.
“My colleagues and I did not, as has been widely misreported, vote to allow water companies to pump sewage into our rivers. I actually voted in favour of a package of measures to reduce harms from storm overflows.
“This includes a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory drainage and sewerage management plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans."
Mr Djanogly said the Bill will also create a new duty on Government to "produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows, and produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England".
Both publications are required before September next year.
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Mr Djanogly continued: “The package of measures I voted for will also create three new duties on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operation, publish near real time information on the operation of storm overflows and to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
“If we do not start to see significant improvements, I am assured that ministers will not hesitate to take action through a swathe of new measures directly on water companies in the Environment Bill.
"Ministers have also announced that they will bolster the measures they are already taking.
“In July of this year, this Government set out, for the first time ever, its expectation that Ofwat should incentivise water companies to invest to significantly reduce the use of storm overflows in the forthcoming pricing review period.
“The Government’s amendment will place this policy position in an additional clause in the Environment Bill to underline the action the Government is taking."
Anglian Water discharged sewage into rivers for 170,326 hours in 2020, according to the Environment Agency.
The risks posed by sewage discharge is also causing people to reconsider river swimming in the district.
Members of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Bluetits, who swim in the River Great Ouse in St Ives, told the BBC that they had “stopped swimming and exercising” because of the risk of the sewage in the water.
Last year, there were nearly 100 discharges of untreated water into the river, according to the Rivers Trust.
Water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times last year.
The Government has said it will force water companies to make a "progressive reduction" in the sewage it dumps in rivers.
During wet weather, storm overflows release diluted wastewater into rivers, preventing a combination of sewage and rain from overloading the sewers and backing up into homes and businesses.
Anglian Water said that they support the amendments to the Environment Bill and are calling on the Government to tackle the causes of sewers overloading.
A spokesperson said: “The water industry shares the ambitions of our customers, and their expectation that our rivers should be beautiful places, rich in nature.
“That’s why we’ve already set out a framework for a comprehensive national plan to achieve that.
"In it, we call on Government and regulators to authorise new investment, and for a much stronger effort on tackling the causes of sewers overloading, like blockages from wet wipes and poorly-designed housing developments.
“However, we think the amendment on its own is not enough, as it only tackles the four per cent of river quality failures caused by overflows.
The Anglian Water statement continued: “We welcome the Environment Bill’s new provisions on storm overflows, and are keen for the Secretary of State to bring forward a plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows and reduce their impacts."