Agenda item

Raw Sewage in Rivers


Councillor Thomas presented his motion on notice. He said it was important to protect the local chalk streams from raw sewage and said that the Environment Agency had recently called the actions of Thames Water unacceptable. He said many had been shocked at the level of sewage being dumped in rivers and said that in 2022, there were 169 cases reported.


Councillor Thomas said that the Chief Executive of Thames Water had been awarded a £1.5 million pay package and said that this was not the right way to incentivise companies to not dump sewage. He said that the government were not setting a long term goal for sewage dumping but residents did not want to see it reduced, they wanted to see it stopped. He urged Members to vote for the motion to be one step closer to cleaner waters.


Councillor Swainston seconded the motion and reserved her right to speak.


Councillor Cox thanked Councillor Thomas for the presentation of his motion.


Councillor Daar said she was taking part in the Local Nature Recovery Strategy led by Hertfordshire County Council and said that chalk streams were quintessential to the area and said the Council should be doing all they could to make sure their quality was preserved. She thanked Councillor Thomas for bringing the motion forward.


Councillor Smith said the Council needed to protect the public who use the district’s rivers for recreational activities. She said it was a sad situation that she had to remind her children not to open their mouths if they were in the river due to the water quality. She said that it was important to take action to protect natural facilities and thanked Councillor Thomas for bringing it forward.


Councillor Devonshire said he was happy to support the motion and had a chalk stream in his ward. He said another issue was over extraction of water causing the beds to dry up.


Councillor E Buckmaster said he was happy to support the motion and said that in his role as a County Councillor, he was involved in starting up the Local Nature Recovery Partnership which had Members on different steering groups and representatives from the Environment Agency and from each Council. He said he also chaired the Hertfordshire Climate Change Sustainability Partnership and said there was a lot of work ongoing in this area.


Councillor Burt thanked Councillor Thomas for his motion and asked for the reasoning behind the stated 50% reduction by 2030.


Councillor Woollcombe said he supported the motion and said there should be an accountability mechanism for fining guilty parties. He said fines were built into companies’ business models and suggested a strengthening of language to include incarceration.


Councillor Deering said that the Conservative group supported the motion and said the district’s chalk streams were precious.


Councillor Crystall said he was delighted to support the motion and said he would raise it with the MP so she could lend her support to the cause.


Councillor Swainston said she supported the motion. She said that the BBC had recently done an investigation into dry spillage. They asked all 9 water companies and only 3 responded because the other 6 were currently being investigated for breaches. She said the issue was not being acted on quick enough and Thames Water discharged sewage in a dry spell over 110 hours last year.


Councillor Thomas responded to the points raised in the debate as proposer of the motion. He thanked Members for their contributions to the debate. He responded to Councillor Burt’s question about the 50% figure and said it was a good starting point and felt like a reasonable target to achieve.


The motion to support the motion having been proposed and seconded was put to the meeting and upon a vote being taken, was declared CARRIED.


RESOLVED – that East Herts District Council notes that, despite repeated calls to put a stop to the dumping of raw sewage into our precious rivers and chalk streams, the latest annual assessment (published this July) by the Environment Agency showed “totally unacceptable” performance on pollution for most of England’s water and sewage companies. Thames Water was given just 2 stars for performance for 2022, meaning that they require significant improvement.


The Environment Agency reported that in 2022 there were 169 discharges of raw sewage into our rivers in East Hertfordshire. East Herts is home to seven of only 210 rare chalk streams in the world. 169 discharges for a combined 1,799 hours equate to nearly 75 days of discharging. 

The Council also notes that the Office for Environmental Protection has recently stated that the Government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat may be allowing raw sewage discharges more frequently than the law permits because there are differing interpretations of the law. It also notes that many of the annual audits of the operations of the Water Companies have not been carried out during the last 6-8 years.

The Council further notes that the Environment Agency has called on Thames Water and all the other Water Companies together to invest £56Billion to upgrade their sewage treatment plants and storm overflows, but it is allowing them 25 years in which to do this. 


Therefore, East Herts District Council calls on the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment to strengthen the legislation on the discharging of raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters by:


1)         Tightening and clarifying the regulations and law on the circumstances in which discharge of sewage might be permitted.

2)         Requiring prompt prosecution and fining of all offending companies,

3)         Requiring the Environment Agency to audit the Water and sewerage companies regularly, every year, to ensure that they are reporting their operations accurately.

4)         The Council also requests the Government to bring forward the date by which Water Companies are required to reduce their discharges by 50% -to bring it forward from 2048 to 2030.

5)         This Council authorises the Chief Executive and the Leader of the Council to write to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment to make these 4 requests.  


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