Ministers Accused of Breaking the Law Over Sewage Dumping in Rivers, Watchdog Claims


Environment Watchdog: Government May Have Breached the Law

Ministers in the UK have been accused of breaking the law by failing to prevent water chiefs from dumping sewage in rivers, according to Britain's environment watchdog. The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) claims that regulatory bodies such as Ofwat and the Environment Agency may have allowed companies to release sewage outside of exceptional circumstances, in violation of the law.

Concerns Over Illegal Sewage Spills

There are growing concerns that hundreds of illegal dry sewage spills are occurring in England. Sewage overflows are meant to be permitted only in periods of heavy rain. However, last year, such releases took place an alarming 825 times each day. Not only can this filthy water harm wildlife and damage local ecosystems, it also poses health risks, such as the potential production of E. coli.

Government Guidance and Regulatory Failures

The Chief Regulatory Officer of the OEP, Helen Venn, has criticized the guidance provided by the government to regulators and the permitting regime in place for water companies. She says that this may allow untreated sewage discharges to occur more frequently than intended by the law, without facing any consequences. Venn states that this is what has led to the identified possible failures to comply with regulations.

Government Response

In response to the accusations, a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) called the volume of sewage discharge "completely unacceptable." They highlighted the government's comprehensive action to tackle the issue, including increased investment, stronger regulation, and tougher enforcement. The government plans to introduce a legally binding target to reduce storm overflows. However, they do not agree with the OEP's interpretations and will continue to work with the watchdog.

Labour Party and Conservative Failure

Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, Steve Reed, criticized ministers for the sewage "scandal." He accused Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of allowing human excrement to pollute waterways while protecting his private swimming pool. Reed blamed the Conservatives for cutting back on enforcement and monitoring of water companies and failing to prosecute them for breaking the law. The Labour Party pledges to introduce automatic fines for sewage discharges, hold water bosses accountable for negligence, and implement strict mandatory monitoring to prevent future incidents.