Gloucestershire county councillors say they are shocked that it could take decades before water companies completely stop discharging raw sewage into local rivers.
Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (Lib Dem, Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) asked Severn Trent, Thames Water and Wessex Water this week whether they had set a target date to stop pollution from making its way into the county’s watercourses.
He said it was good to hear from the firms but also very disappointing that two of them have no target at all to end all sewage discharges.
“At least Thames Water aim to do this by 2050 but that’s 30 years away,” he said.
“The public have rightly identified this issue as massive.
“In my view, the Government needs to step in with some seriously strong legislation.”
Cllr Phil Awford (Con, Highnam), who chairs the scrutiny task group which is looking into river pollution, said he too was disappointed with Thames Water saying they are looking at a target date of 2050.
“It’s quite a long time away. We are going to have to suffer some discharges once we come into the wet season. If we don’t have these discharges, we are going to have flooding in the streets.
“We are just not doing enough with grey water harvesting and new builds.”
A Severn Trent spokesperson said they are passionate about taking care of the environment and their rivers are currently the healthiest they have been since the industrial revolution.
They say farming practices and land management are the biggest contributors to river pollution.
“Our commitment to thriving nature and our environment means that we have consistently supported both the Government’s Environmental Bill and the Duke of Wellington proposed amendment to it.
“The Environmental Bill outlines a to do list for all sectors that impact on river quality over a 25-year period.
“Assuming everyone, across all sectors successfully delivers the work on their to do list, rivers will reach ecologically good status. We’re committing to complete our actions in a 9-year time frame by 2030, rather than the 25-year target.
“The current debate is around the use of storm overflows which are used in heavy rain and are made up of almost all rainwater and only account for 3.5% of rivers not achieving good ecological status.
“We are working hard to use overflows less and we are investing £100m a year to go even further in improving rivers so that nature can continue to thrive.
“Across Gloucestershire agriculture and land management are the biggest contributors to rivers and other water courses not achieving good ecological status.
“Agriculture accounts for 36% of all river pollutions, so although we aren’t responsible for their actions, we want to take a leading role in helping farmers to care for rivers, which is why we are working with 9,000 farmers to prevent pesticides and other run off that harm nature reaching our rivers.”
Thames Water representatives say their 2050 target work is already underway to reduce the need for discharges.
They say discharges of untreated sewage are simply unacceptable even when they are legally permitted.
A spokesperson said: “Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for rivers and for the communities who love and value them. By working with local partners we’re actively listening to our customers, who want us to do more.
“Our planned investment in our sewer network, for example in Bourton-on-the-Water and Cirencester, and upgrading sewage treatment works like Fairford and Moreton-in-Marsh, will help improve the situation and we are looking carefully at using nature based solutions to address the challenge ahead.
“We’ll work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop untreated discharges being necessary. We have a long way to go – and we certainly can’t do it on our own – but the ambition is clear.”
Wessex Water says they have only 11 storm overflows in Gloucestershire which protect properties from flooding during heavy rainfall.
“These are monitored and none have been identified as having an adverse impact on river water quality,” they said.
“We support ambitions to eliminate any negative impact that could be caused by overflows, but this will only be possible when Government legislation prevents housing developers and property owners connecting surface water to combined sewers, which is increasing the frequency of overflow operations.”