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  • by Karma Loveday

Storm overflow reduction timetable expected early next year

Defra will be reporting to Parliament “in the early part of next year” on the timetable for storm overflow discharge reductions.

That was confirmed by Parliamentary under-secretary of state Lord Benyon, responding to a question from Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb in the House of Lords last week on when water companies will be required to deliver the first stage of reductions in the level of sewage discharged into rivers and the sea. He later added: “We are treating this as a matter of urgency, and we want to hold water companies to account to react quickly to the new measures we are bringing in."

The ensuing discussion included points raised by Baroness Altmann, Lord Benyon and Lord Trees.

Baroness Altmann asked whether the Government might support Putney MP Fleur Anderson’s Bill to ban wet wipes containing plastic, and if so whether such a ban could be introduced by secondary legislation through the new Section 141A in the Environment Act, to “prepare a plan” to reduce these discharges. Lord Benyon cited Defra’s recent Call for Evidence on single use plastics and added: "We will be looking closely at the Private Member’s Bill to see whether the Government and the Member of Parliament concerned can work together on this.”

Lord Benyon confirmed the Government’s review on implementing regulations under Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 is due to be completed by Autumn 2022. He was responding to a question from Baroness McIntosh of Pickering on the regulations, which would introduce sustainable drainage systems to limit load in combined sewers.

Lord Trees asked if and when mandatory monitoring for antibiotics or antibiotic resistance in aquatic environments will be instigated, to inform evidence-based mitigation measures. Lord Benyon said: “The Government are looking at this right across the piece as a ‘one health' approach across human and animal health, food and the environment. We have set up a project called Pathogen Surveillance in Agriculture, Food and the Environment, which brings together a number of agencies and departments. It contains a work stream focused on antimicrobial resistance prevalence in two river catchments. This work will strengthen our understanding. We are also working with the Environment Agency and the water company chemical investigations programme to make sure that we are all pulling in the same direction to tackle this very important matter.”

Lord Benyon confirmed no water company has taken advantage of the dispensation granted for maintaining normal sewage treatment standards where chemicals cannot be obtained because of Brexit.

Separately last week, there were written questions from four MPs on what is being done to protect the health of swimmers and other water users from pollution. Water minister Rebecca Pow pointed to the provisions of the new Environment Act and regulations for designated bathing waters. She noted that first time monitoring for the 2021 bathing water season for the River Wharfe at Ilkley, the only inland designated bathing water, will be published in January 2022.


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