- By Jonah Fisher
- BBC environment reporter
The government claims that all storm overflows in the UK are now electronically monitored, making it easier for water companies to manage them.
The monitoring devices, known as EDMs, report in real time when water utilities discharge wastewater into rivers and oceans.
The number of storm overflows monitored has increased steadily over the past decade.
Sewage is supposed to be released only after heavy rains but last year there was 1.75 million hours of discharge.
There were almost 15,000 storms hitting the UK and the government aims for Britain’s nine water companies to monitor them all by the end of 2023.
Environment Minister Steve Barclay said: “Completion of storm surge monitoring is an important step forward in better protecting our precious waterways, communities and wildlife depends on them”.
While many companies comfortably met the overall monitoring target, the UK-wide target was achieved after Thames Water, the UK’s largest water company, recalculated the number of flows out of the network their.
Last year, they reported that only 61% of 777 overflows were monitored.
After the BBC questioned how it could achieve 100% this year, Thames Water said that in addition to adding screens, after closer inspection it discovered that 158 spills They report that by 2022 there will be practically no need to install screens. In these cases, the outlets were found to no longer be connected to the sewerage network or were duplicates of other discharge permits, a Thames spokesperson explained.
The Environment Agency, the regulator, said it was satisfied with Thames Water’s assessment that the country currently had just 619 outflows. It is responsible for receiving EDM data and investigating illegal oil spills.
EA chief executive John Leyland said of the comprehensive monitoring across the UK: “This increased transparency will enable the Environment Agency to better tackle illegal storm discharges to spill.
“We are dedicated to investigating those who breach their strict licensing conditions.”
The EA is currently conducting what it calls a “major criminal investigation” into whether wastewater treatment plants overflowed before reaching full capacity.
James Wallace, chief executive of campaign group River Action UK, said there was still work to be done to ensure water companies were adequately dealt with over wastewater spills.
He said: “Decades of cuts to the Environment Agency and (Water Services Regulator) budgets have left regulators with no chance while water companies pollute without fear of being punished. prosecute”.
“Until the government provides the necessary manpower and funding to regulatory agencies, these claims of improvement will be a meaningless slap to those who witnessed the demise of these lines. precious rivers and their water security.”
According to permit regulations, storm surge water can only be used to prevent the system from returning to service after heavy rain. But analysis of water companies’ own EDM data shows they are being used at other times too.
Despite greater transparency, many water companies refuse to release their data to journalists and campaigners. It is also unclear that greater awareness of wastewater discharge has led to improved water quality. This year, the number of bathing sites in England judged unfit for swimming rose to its highest level since the new rating system was introduced in 2015.
David Henderson, chief executive of Water UK, the industry trade body, said: “Storm overflows are a design feature and act as a release valve after major storms.”
“Water companies want them to operate as little as possible, which is why we are seeking regulatory approval to invest £11 billion over five years – three times the current rate – to increase the capacity of our sewer system and prevent more stormwater from entering the system.” right from the start.”