Action on sewage in rivers

Raw sewage is entering UK rivers on a horrifyingly regular basis, damaging our river ecosystems and putting public health at risk. In 2019 alone, untreated sewage poured into England’s rivers for an astounding 1.5 million hours, over the course of 200,000 separate incidents.

What’s really shocking is that, much of the time, this practice is completely legal.

Across the UK is a network of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These are essentially Victorian-era relief valves on the sewage treatment infrastructure. If sewage piping, or even a sewage treatment works, is becoming overwhelmed with sewage and rainwater, it is diverted and discharged into a nearby watercourse instead of backing up into homes.

What do we want?

Our rivers are already suffering, with only 14% considered ecologically healthy in the Environment Agency’s latest figures.

As our population grows and we experience more extreme weather events as a result of climate change, the frequency of these discharges will only increase, unless action is taken.

We want to see an end to the practice of discharging raw sewage into UK rivers.

We want to be able to swim, paddle, fish and play in our rivers without risk of contracting hepatitis, e-coli,  gastroenteritis and other unpleasant diseases.

We want to give our native wildlife a chance to recover, and see our rivers full of life.

In October 2020 we backed calls across the wider Rivers Trust network to support the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill.

This was designed to ensure real progress towards stopping raw sewage discharges into UK rivers and coastal waters.

What was the aim of the Bill?

The aim was to require water companies to progressively reduce discharges from CSOs, improve their capacity to monitor all discharging assets and report publicly on the number, condition and quality of sewage discharges.

The Bill would also require the Environment Agency to take further action towards improving water quality, investigating the impact of CSO discharges on water quality and working with water companies to reduce harmful discharges.

The Environment Bill passed in November 2021 with promises on river sewage.

A sewage overflow © Tim Fish v Pexels, free to use