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Defra consultation on Government’s storm overflows discharge reduction plan

Defra's consultation on the Government’s proposed Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan sets out targets for water undertakers to meet by 2050

Defra has published (31 March 2022) its consultation on the Government’s proposed Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, the final version of which is due to be laid before Parliament on 1 September 2022 pursuant to section 141A Water Industry Act 1991 (introduced by the Environment Act 2021).

The paper recites many statistics, including that there are 15,000 storm overflows in England, 80% of which are monitored, producing over 400,000 sewage discharges in 2020. In excess of 800 storm overflow improvement schemes are being implemented during AMP 7 at a cost of £3.1 billion (including £1.9 billion on Thames Tideway Tunnel).

The paper sets out targets for water undertakers to meet by 2050 with interim targets in intervening years. The high-level targets are –

  1. discharges from storm overflows are only to be allowed if no local adverse ecological impact will be caused;
  2. companies must significantly reduce harmful pathogens from storm overflows discharging into or near designated bathing waters;
  3. companies must ensure that storm overflows operate only in unusually heavy rainfall.

The Storm Overflows Taskforce, set up by Government in August 2020 and consisting of members from Defra, the EA, Ofwat, CCW, The Rivers Trust, Water UK and the water industry, has made a number of recommendations in respect of rainwater management, including –

  1. the implementation of Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which would introduce standards for new sustainable drainage systems, an approving body, and removal of the automatic right of connection to the public sewerage system;
  2. giving water companies the right to repair or alter private drainage systems;
  3. giving water companies the right to discharge rainwater to watercourses;
  4. reviewing the role of highway drainage systems as a rainwater drainage solution.

Some, if not all, of these recommendations are likely to be welcomed by water companies in their long-running endeavours to improve the quality of sewerage services.

The consultation period closes on 12 May 2022.

For further information on the Defra consultation or to find out how we can assist you, contact our specialist water sector lawyers