Sewage spills dropped by 19% in 2022, figures show

Sewage discharges fell by 19% in 2022 – but this was due to dry weather rather than any action taken by water companies, the Environment Agency (EA) has said.

The figures, which include data from all 10 water and sewerage companies in England, show a total of 301,091 spills in 2022 – an average of 824 a day. This is down from 372,533 in 2021.

Of the 13,323 storm overflows with monitoring data, 3% spilt over 100 times compared to 5% in 2021, while the average number of spills per storm overflow was 23 compared to 29 the previous year.

Data also showed that 18% of storm overflows did not spill at all, compared to 13% in 2021.

Water companies are only supposed to discharge sewage from storm overflows during periods of heavy rain and under strictly permitted conditions so that the system is not overwhelmed and backs up into people’s homes.

But campaigners have said they are discharging much more often than they should, including when there has been no rain, and have repeatedly called on water companies to use their profits to invest in more infrastructure.

The EA said it shares the public’s concern over sewage discharges and is urging water companies to improve storm overflow maintenance, management and investment.

(PA Graphics)

John Leyland, the EA’s executive director, said: “The decrease in spills in 2022 is largely down to dry weather, not water company action.

“We want to see quicker progress from water companies on reducing spills and acting on monitoring data.

“We expect them to be fully across the detail of their networks and to maintain and invest in them to the high standard that the public expect and the regulator demands.”

Currently, 91% of storm overflows provide monitoring data, up from 89% in 2021, and the EA has given water companies until the end of this year to fit monitors on all storm overflows.

The EA said it will use this data to help inform the next round of environmental improvement plans for the water companies.

Winter weather Feb 18th 2020
Water minister Rebecca Pow said the Government is making water companies invest £56 billion (Steve Parsons/PA)

Water minister Rebecca Pow said: “The volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is unacceptable and we are taking action to make sure polluters are held to account.

“By bringing in comprehensive monitoring – up from just 7% in 2010 to the most extensive level ever now being at 91% – this Government and its regulators have enabled the extent of sewage discharges to be revealed so that we are better equipped to tackle this challenge.”

She also said the Government is making water companies invest £56 billion in infrastructure over the next 25 years.

Jim McMahon MP, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, added: “That the Tories continue to give the green light to 824 raw sewage discharges a day into villages, towns and cities across our country shows they have no respect for British communities.

“People should be able to just enjoy where they live, work and holiday without having to worry about the Tory sewage scandal sullying their areas. Local businesses shouldn’t have to worry about Government failures hitting tourism trade.”