The new crackdown on sewage discharges fails to protect the majority of England’s coastline, the Marine Conservation Society claims, as it takes legal action against the Government’s plan.
Protests erupted at English beaches this summer when many were forced to close during the high season after raw sewage was dumped nearby.
But the Department of the Environment’s plan to limit discharges into waterways only covers bathing areas in England’s seas and almost completely excludes the rest of the coastal waters.
This puts public health and nature at risk, say the charity and its co-claimants Good Law Project.
The plans will mean water companies can still discharge untreated sewage, including faeces, tampons, wet wipes, viruses and chemicals in most conservation areas.
Raw sewage flowed into protected waters for more than 260,000 hours in 2021 – the equivalent of more than 30 years – according to MCS data.
There are an estimated 1,600 storm weirs on England’s coast, and 600 of them will never be included in the strategy, “which means they will be able to completely legally continue to dump countless amounts of sewage into the sea,” MCS chief Sandy Luk said.
Charities want the government to rewrite its Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan 2022 so that the targets kick in years earlier than planned. The plan already calls for water companies to deliver £56 billion in capital investment over 25 years to tackle storm sewer discharges.
The ocean charity also warns that the target of reducing emissions by 80% is too lenient.
“What should happen is that these overflows… are really only for the exceptional [rainfall] events,” Luk told Sky News.
“The cocktail of pollutants that are in sewage and that flow into the ocean through these spillways” should be treated at the source to prevent them from spilling into the ocean, she said.
“People end up in hospital when they swim in sewage… Sewage pollution affects marine life from sea grass to sea birds,” she said.
Less than half of England’s coastal waters achieved “good ecological status” and none had a “good chemical status”, according to government statistics.
Emma Dearnaley, legal director at the Good Law Project, said the legal case will “make the case for more ambitious and urgent action to reduce sewage discharges from water companies.
“These sewage discharges threaten human health, the biological diversity of the sea and the fishing industry.”
The Department for the Environment declined to comment on the potential court case, but is understood to be concerned about the impact of more ambitious plans on household bills.
Ms Luk said you have to “look at the cost to society and the cost to human health and the cost to marine life that is being caused by this pollution. And it’s huge.”
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