There has been widespread anger after MPs rejected a measure which would have barred water companies from pumping sewage into seas and rivers.
Last week, the House of Commons voted down an amendment to the government’s Environment Bill which sought to prevent water firms from dumping sewage into rivers.
Only 22 Conservative MPs rebelled against their own party to vote in favour of the amendment, which was introduced in the House of Lords by the Duke of Wellington.
But environment secretary George Eustace urged MPs to vote down amendments to the legislation, which they duly did – sparking a major backlash on social media.
Why is sewage being dumped into rivers?
In certain circumstances – after extreme weather or when they’re close to capacity, for example – treatment works are permitted to release sewage into streams and rivers.
Water firms are given discharge permits stating when they can dump sewage. Normally, sewage that’s released into rivers is treated using storage tanks before being discharged.
But last month, the government gave water companies permission to discharge sewage that wasn’t fully treated, as supplies of chemicals ran low due to the shortage of truck drivers.
Also, not all dumping of sewage is legal. In April, a BBC Panorama investigation found untreated sewage was being discharged into rivers illegally, breaching permit conditions.
As a result, untreated sewage containing human waste has been released into rivers by treatment works.
How much sewage is dumped in rivers?
Untreated sewage was released into English rivers on more than 400,000 occasions in 2020.
A report from the Rivers Trust recently revealed that more than half of rivers in England – 53% – are in a poor state. None are in good overall condition, the study found.
This is partly because of water companies releasing sewage into them without it being fully treated beforehand, but also because of other factors including agricultural run-off.
In 2020, the Rivers Trust said, 1,602 river waterbodies – 43% of all of them – were affected by sewage discharges.
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