£10bn for water sewage clean-up


Water UK has pledged to invest £10 billion to reduce sewage spills – but who is fronting the bill?

Photograph of River Thames.

Trade body, Water UK, which represents nine of England’s water and sewage companies, has pledged £10 billion for a seven-year programme to reduce sewage spills. 

In a statement issued on Thursday, chairwoman of Water UK, Ruth Wilson, apologised on behalf of UK water and waste companies about the billions of litres of sewage dumped into rivers and seas, and has launched the National Overflows Plan to modernise sewer systems. 

“We expect that, by 2030, this initial wave of investment will cut sewage overflows by up to 140,000 each year compared with the level in 2020,” said Wilson. 

Sewage damage 

Firms on occasion are allowed to spill sewage into open water after heavy rainfall or storms to avoid clogged water systems and overflowing houses. 

However, the Environment Agency recorded 301,091 sewage spills in 2022, an average of 824 a day, which it has called “unaccetable”. 

Sewage can contain harmful bacteria and viruses like E.Coli and hepatitis, which can make animals and people extremely ill if they swim or consume it. 

Water UK pledge

With its new plan, and the established Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, which looks to reduce storm overflows by 2035, Water UK aims to: 

  • Install water pools that can manage surges in rainfall. 
  • Increase the capacity of sewage treatment works.
  • Replace concrete with grass and ponds to reduce rainfall run-off entering sewers. 
  • Treat overflow spills. 
  • Improve the sewer network by enlarging and improving pipes. 

The trade body will also launch an Environmental hub to give the public up-to-date information on all 15,000 sewage overflows in England. 

Water and sewage companies will also help up to 100 communities protect rivers and other outdoor areas of water for the purpose of swimming and recreation. 

Financial impact 

The £10 billion investment and plans have yet to be approved by Ofwat, it is understood that the money will be borrowed from water companies and paid for by an increase in customer bills, according to the Financial Times (FT).

The government laid out in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan that £56 billion of investment is needed to improve outflows, which far exceeds the proposed amount for the sewage spills. 

And the FT revealed that water companies are already behind on their spending targets, with only three-fifths of the £2.2 billion firms could have invested in wastewater infrastructure by 2025 being spent so far. 

“Looking back, the water industry has not shown the leadership it should have done on sewage spills. We should have acted faster to respond to their obvious impact on people’s enjoyment of rivers and beaches,” said Wilson. 

Water UK will reveal more details on the National Overflows Plan this Summer. 

If you found this article interesting, check out Next phase of £10bn upgrade to UK highways revealed.

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