The government says it will force water companies to “gradually reduce” the wastewater discharged into rivers, under pressure from the Lords.
Peers proposed a change to the environment law last week in an effort to reduce pollution, but it didn’t get enough support from lawmakers.
It has led to a backlash and the Lords are expected to push their plan again.
But Environment Secretary George Eustice has now promised to strengthen the measures by making them a legal obligation.
He said the government already had plans to force water companies to act on wastewater, but added: “We listened to the debate in Parliament. [and] we will write what was already government policy in [law] to give people the reassurance they seek. “
The House of Lords is currently debating the environmental bill and it is still unclear whether the government’s move will be enough to prevent them from tabling their amendment.
The environmental issue came to a head just days before the start of the COP26 climate summit, hosted by the UK in Glasgow.
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The Environment Agency allows water utility companies to release wastewater into rivers and streams after extreme weather events, such as prolonged heavy rain.
This protects properties from flooding and prevents wastewater from returning to the streets and homes.
But according to public body data, water companies dumped raw sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times last year, with untreated effluents – including human waste, wet wipes and condoms – released into waterways to over three million hours in 2020.
The Lords passed an amendment to the Environmental Act that would have imposed a legal obligation on water companies and the government to demonstrate progressive reductions in untreated wastewater discharges and required them to “take all reasonable steps” to avoid use. of combined sewer overflows.
But when the proposal was voted on by lawmakers last week, it lost 265 votes to 202, even with 22 conservatives rebelling against the government to vote in favor of the plan.
The government said the amount of sewage discharged by water companies was “unacceptable” and made it “very clear” to companies that significant reductions must be a priority.
But a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the intentions of the Lords amendment, which he believes would involve an overhaul of the UK’s Victorian sewer system, would cost up to £ 150 billion.
“This would mean that individuals – each of us as taxpayers – potentially pay thousands of pounds each as a result,” they added.
Shortly before the matter was called into question by the Lords, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposed its own amendment for when the bill returns to the Commons.
The new legal obligation would be placed directly on water companies to carry out a “progressive reduction” of waste water discharged into rivers.
He follows up on the advice he gave earlier to the financial regulator Ofwat earlier this year by saying that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm surges and that the regulator should ensure funding is approved. to do it.
And companies should produce “comprehensive legal sewer and drainage management plans, establishing how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum planning horizon of 25 years, including how storms will be dealt with.” .
But Labor’s shadow environment secretary, Luke Pollard, said the “bad turnaround” on the issue due to public backlash “would do little to convince the public that the health of our rivers, rather than health. of conservative polls, is at risk. ” front line in the minds of ministers “.
He added: “The government still has no clear plan and no grip on the issue of raw wastewater being pumped into our seas and rivers.”
- Conservative party
- Water pollution
- The House of Lords
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