Raw sewage spills doubled in 2023 with heavy rainfall blamed | Politics | News

The number of raw sewage spills in England doubled last year, reaching the highest since monitoring began.

Reports suggest the number of sewage discharges into rivers and sees rose from 1.8 million hours in 2022 to around four million in 2023, reports The Times.

When figures published later today (Wednesday), it is expected a huge increase in rainfall combined with a dry spell in 2022 will be blamed.

With months of drought in 2022, the number of sewage spills dropped to 301,000. The Times says water firms labelled it progress while the government said it was down to the weather.

Last year there were around 475,000 spills, up by 58 percent, claims the report.

These discharges happen when rainwater and sewage combine in sewers. The storm overflows, outlets into rivers and seas that act as relief valves during heavy rainfall, then sends the sewage into waterways.

Evidence, however, now suggests there are spills on warm days too. This is said to be because of a lack of infrastructure such as storm tanks.

Last year dealt a double-blow to water companies tackling sewage spills as the sixth wettest on record after a relatively dry year before – with rainfall being six percent below average.

Experts also believe increased monitoring impacts on the figures, with around 40,000 spills last year down to the monitoring coverage now being 100 percent – up from 91 percent in 2022.

It is understood 2019 would have been the record year for spills had complete monitoring been in place. The average storm overflow recorded 35 spills in 2019, the number was slightly below last year.

It comes at a time when water companies are under scrutiny for spills. Last year Ruth Kelly, head of the industry body Water UK, apologised for the number of releases into rivers and seas, pledging to spend £10 billion this decade addressing the problem.

The £96 billion spending package would see companies investing in everything from sewage treatment to new reservoirs between 2025 and 2030. Regulator Ofwat is expected to make a decision on the plan in the summer.

Last year spills were also said to be more common because the ground was soaked in vast swathes of the country. Between September and December groundwater levels were particularly high. This water can infiltrate into the sewers which overloads capacity.

As well as increased monitoring being to blame last year, the devices that detect the spills have become more reliable. They can detect around 15 percent more spills now than previous years.

The monitoring programme itself began in 2013 with the first data on spills being released in 2016. The water industry has since published a plan on how it plans to tackle 14,000 of the overflows that need the most improvement.

However, the National Storm Overflows Plan for England says around 5,000 won’t see an improvement by 2050.

When the Environment Agency figures are released, they will reveal the companies with the worst performance on spills.

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