How Can Sewage Be Dumped In Rivers? Doesn’t The Environment Act Stop That?

Polluted water leaking into a river
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I got a massive 3 likes on my tweet asking if I should look into the new Environment bill that the MPs have been voting on

So, I’m taking 3 likes as a resounding endorsement and the okay to put off work to look into the Environment Act 2020, why it’s causing controversy and made the hashtags #TurdReich, #TurdWorldCountry and #TorySewageParty trend. So Grab a cuppa and let’s have a deep dive.

What Is The Environment Act?

The Environment Act we all know came into being in 1995 In the Environment Act-95 there was provision for creation of The Environment Agency (EA) which started up in 1996.

The EA is a “non-departmental public body” which is part of the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) So the department gets money from DEFRA and also from various licences it grants for things like waste, rod fishing and running the canals.

So why is the Environment Agency important to our tale of raw sewage being poured (allegedly) into our rivers and seas? The EA is responsible for overseeing the quality of rivers & lakes and also overseas the coastal waters out to a 3 mile limit.

Until 2016, the EA covered England & Wales (Scotland was always separate) but since then Wales has its own agency.

A big part of the EA’s remit is flooding and coastal defence and about half it’s budget goes on this (around £600+ million a year) and around a third goes on actual environmental protection (pollution control).

Bear in mind that pollution control covers water, air and land – so it’s a big remit for the 11,000+ staff to cover and quite a small budget. Additional funding can be available directly from DEFRA such as a £30 million grant for farmers to help stop animal waste going into rivers.

Basically, the EA is in charge of making sure the water companies act in a responsible manner and enforcing the law as set out in the Environment Act So, what’s the big deal with the Environment Act 2020?

The original bill made changes essentially clearing up the wording around sewage provisions, and formalising the time that certain things need to take place in when changes are made.

It’s a bit complicated as these regulations are spread across the original 1995 Environment Act and The Water Industry Act (1991) The latter Act sets out how the water companies are regulated in regards to providing water and how they treat (and get rid of) waste.

That’s where the House Of Lords Amendment 45 comes in.

What Is The House Of Lords Amendment?

When the Environment Act 2020 went into the House Of Lords, they inserted a clause (amendment 45) that basically says “Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows”.

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There are 6 points in this amendment, 3 of which cover reporting of sewage discharge, 1 about exceptions (such as power outages etc) and 1 about the provision by the Secretary of State for producing a reduction plan.

So that’s it. 265 MPs have their knickers in a twist OVER ONE SENTENCE: A sentence that reads “Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows” It’s a nothing sentence.

My MP and a few others have argued that this provision isn’t costed and will mean that the cost of the “reasonable steps” are placed on the taxpayer or will lead to a rise in water bills So where could the money come from?

Are Companies Ignoring The Environment Act?

How about the companies cleaning up their act in the first place? In 2017 Tesco were fined £8 million for residents having to leave their homes due to petrol odours coming from the sewer network.

In July 2019 Thames Water was fined £700,000 for sending raw sewage into Maidenhead Ditch which killed fish In July 2021, Souther Water was fined £90 million YES NINETY MILLION QUID for discharging sewage 6,971 times.

So where would the money come from? How about the fines levied on the companies? If the companies clean up their act and stop allowing pollution into the waterways, it would of course cost them money, but they wouldn’t get millions of pounds of fines.

MPs argue that there are already laws in place to stop sewage being dumped out of overflows But we can see from the huge fines being set out (and Southern Water polluting almost 7000 times) that the law obviously isn’t robust enough.

So while TECHNICALLY the MPs DIDN’T vote to ALLOW raw sewage to be pumped into the rivers and the lakes that we’re used to….

They DID vote to not put the onus on the water companies to improve infrastructure and stop this sort of thing happening because it would cost up to £650 billion pounds

But still, you might say “These events are few and far between” Well, no, they’re not South West Water and Southern Water were both responsible for more than 100 pollution incidents for every 10,000 kilometers of sewer in 2020

Water utilities in England released untreated sewage into rivers and seas more than 400,000 times in 2020. And it’s only going to get worse.

Because of the impact of the HGV driver shortage, it caused a “supply chain failure” which meant that Sewage and water treatment plants couldn’t fully treat the waste to the usual legal standards as required by the Water Industry and Environment Acts.

As a result, the EA introduced a waiver that would mean some companies would not have to go through the third stage in the treatment of sewage if they did not have the right chemicals.

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This waiver lasts to the end of the year It’s a separate measure that was introduced outside of the Environment Act 2020 but the two have been linked together as if one is a result of the other And, in the interests of honesty and transparency, this isn’t strictly true.


The problem is, the MPs have done such a poor job of explaining themselves that we haven’t been made aware of the true situation – many have ignored their constituents, and some have gone so far as to block them on social media completely.

In conclusion then,

  • Amendment 45 to the Environment Act called for changes to sewage infrastructure in order to stop sewage seeping into overflow pipes
  • Did not clarify who was to pay for this (inference is it’s on the water companies)
  • Does not give water companies permission to dump raw sewage into the sea
  • The Environment Agency issued a waiver to let water companies dump the sewage which was separate to Amendment 45

So yes, England is currently a #TurdWorldCountry thanks to the Environment Agency waiving third stage sewage treatment requirements but not due to MPs voting against Amendment 45 of the Environment Act

Do I agree? I am not sure.

I can see their point but they need to explain themselves more clearly. How did your MP respond? Mine had a rather meek response on Facebook not really explaining anything except the cost of £600 Billion and asking us not to come for him on social media.

And not being one to miss out & seeing #PooTitlesForBoris trending I will humbly submit that the Tory party are “Up Sh!t Creek Without A Paddle” when it comes to the electorate supporting them on this thanks to massively underestimating how we feel about our water safety

As usual, this thread is just my own opinion based on things I have researched on the internet and combined here for your reading.


All Environment Acts 2020 & Amendments: Environment Act 2020: Amended Bill:

Amended Bill Votes:

Water Industry Act 1991:

Environment Act 1995: And:

Sewage Waiver:

Funding for Farmers:

Environment Agency Info:

Tesco Fine:

Southern Water Fine:

Thames Water Fine:

UK Water company pollution incidents: 2020:

Water firm sewage spills (paywall but figures can be seen):

Vote Scandal:


Editor’s Note: This article was originally a thread on Twitter. You can view the full series of tweets here

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