Figures published last week by the EA revealed that untreated sewage was discharged into England’s waterways for a total of 3.1 million hours in 2020 through storm overflow pipes, designed for use only during extreme rainfall, to relieve pressure from the sewage system.
According to the figures, sewage spills increased by 27% in 2020, numbering 403,171 last year compared to 292,864 in 2019. However, the EA attributed the increase to a “higher number of overflows being monitored”.
Increased monitoring will provide a clearer image of the scale of sewage pollution, as the number of overflows monitored now stands at 12,093, up 32% from 8,276 in 2019, the regulator said. Average spill numbers remained similar to last year, it maintained.
Analysis of the figures shows that the longest overall spill duration for a single plant was at United Utilities’ Sedburgh wastewater treatment works, which discharged for 8,490 hours.
Second longest was a United Utilities’ plant at Keswick, which discharged for 8,275 hours.
The third longest duration was Severn Trent Water's Duffield Sewage Treatment Works, which discharged for 8,085 hours.
Anglian Water's Horning-Knackers Wood plant was fourth with 7,961 hours, while Yorkshire Water took fifth place with 7,740 hours worth of discharge at its Wentworth facility.
The next five in order of the longest periods of discharges are:
- Severn Trent's Barton sewage treatment works (7,102 hours)
- Yorkshire Water's Ripponden plant (7,098 hours)
- United Utilities' Cark plant (7,021 hours)
- United Utilities' Blennerhassett plant (6,975 hours)
- United Utilities' Hurst Green works (6,890 hours)
EA chief executive Sir James Bevan said: “Monitoring of the sewerage network has increased 14-fold in the last five years - from 800 overflows monitored in 2016 to more than 12,000 in 2020.
“In the next four years water companies will undertake 800 investigations and 798 improvement schemes to storm overflows. The Storm Overflows Taskforce is also looking into further ways that we can reduce the harm from these overflows.”
Last week, DEFRA announced that measures to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows will be put into law “as part of an ambitious agenda to build back greener from the pandemic”.