MP calls for end to sewage flow into Wigan's waterways
An MP has called for an end to raw sewage being pumped into rivers, after it happened hundreds of times in her Wigan constituency last year.
Yvonne Fovargue, who represents Makerfield, discovered United Utilities was responsible for 1,257 reported sewage overflows in the area, lasting a total of 4,452 hours.
In the last year alone, raw sewage was discharged into UK rivers and seas more than 400,000 times.
There were 2,941 discharges into UK coastal bathing waters during the May to September bathing season alone.
The UK is ranked last in the EU for bathing water quality, with no rivers in a healthy condition, none meeting good chemical standards and only 14 per cent meeting good ecological standards, Ms Fovargue said.
In a recent series of votes on the Environment Bill, Labour MPs voted to end the routine discharge of raw sewage into rivers and seas, but a cross-party amendment tabled by the Duke of Wellington was defeated.
On Tuesday, the House of Lords backed by 213 votes to 60 - a majority of 153 - a proposal to place a new legal duty on water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent sewage discharges.
This enabled the Bill to be sent back to the Commons where the Government will table its own amendment.
It will put a legal duty on the utility firms to “secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows”.
The Bill is currently in the parliamentary stage known as “ping-pong”, where a piece of legislation moves between the Commons and Lords until agreement can be reached.
Ms Fovargue said: “People across our borough want our local rivers to be free from raw sewage but human effluent is still routinely discharged into our seas and rivers.
“It not only makes river waters unsafe, but it also damages the precious river habitats for marine life, birds and mammals.
“The blame lies with the Government for allowing water companies to pump raw sewage into our rivers and seas. The Conservatives should urgently U-turn on their decision to block the Environment Bill amendment so that water companies are forced to reduce the amount of sewage they pump into our rivers and seas.”
Environment minister Rebecca Pow said the Government was “totally committed” to protecting the environment and the seas via new legislation.
Speaking during an adjournment debate, she told MPs: “We’ve got six pages of clauses in the Environment Bill committed to reducing sewage into our watercourses, all with essential steps that we have to take in order to fully tackle this whole issue.
“We have now announced a legal duty on water companies to take action to reduce harm from overflows.”
A United Utilities spokesman said: “During storm conditions, when sewers and treatment plants are operating at full capacity, we are permitted to spill excess storm water from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to help prevent the flooding of streets, homes and businesses.
“Over the past 20 years, United Utilities has invested £1.2bn improving CSOs to reduce the amount and impact of spills. We stand ready to invest further in our rivers to help bring about the transformation we all want to see.
“But for this investment, we’re calling on Government and Ofwat to match our ambition at the next price review.
“The water industry’s recent report sets out 10 key steps necessary to achieve the radical changes we all want.
“We’re asking Government to bring forward legislation in a new Rivers Act to provide greater protection for rivers. The Environment Agency estimates that wastewater leads to around 30 per cent of river and sea pollution in the North West, with the remaining 70 per cent due to other causes, such as rain running off highways and farm land, and private drainage being incorrectly connected. So, without everyone working together, we simply won’t get this radical change.”
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