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The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill 2019-21 is a Private Members Bill introduced by Phillip Dunne MP. It had its First Reading on 5 February 2020. Second Reading was scheduled to take place in January 2021 but has been postponed.

The Bill would amend the Water Industry Act 1991 and place a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers or other inland water bodies. As water quality is a devolved matter, the Bill would only apply to inland waters in England.

Discharges of untreated sewage into rivers and watercourses are currently permitted under certain circumstances. This usually occurs when existing infrastructure is unable to cope with surges in sewage and waste water. This is often caused by additional flows from wet weather. These are known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

The Environment Agency is responsible for issuing discharge permits under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. However, water companies are not required by law to report on all types of CSOs. In 2019, reports show that raw sewage was discharged into English rivers on over 200,000 occasions.

The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill would promote greater transparency from water companies by requiring them to produce and maintain a register of sewerage assets. The performance of these assets would also be reported on twice a year.

The Bill would also require the Secretary of State to report annually on the measures being taken to reduce CSOs and their impacts. Specific measures proposed (but not required) in the Bill include reducing the amount of sewage produced by domestic properties or minimising the polluting content of sewage.

The Bill has received backing from several environmental groups including Salmon and Trout Conservation, Surfers Against Sewage, Angling Trust and The Rivers Trust.

The Government has stated that it supports the intentions of the new Bill. However, it has highlighted that measures to tackle CSOs are already underway. The Environment Bill 2019-21 also contains reforms to drainage and sewerage management.


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