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Dumping sewage

Good Law Project calls for new stricter laws as United Utilities tops the table for sewage dumping
Water flowing from drain into river

The North West based water company United Utilities has been named the worst offender for dumping sewage into our local rivers and coastal waters.

The data, published by the Environment Agency, show the company discharged untreated sewage almost 70,000 times last year for a grand total of 425,491 hours.

Last year United Utilities reported operating profits of £610 million in 2022 and paid out dividends of £296 million.

New laws are needed

Good Law Project recently supported legal action brought by the Manchester Ship Canal Company against United Utilities to challenge the water company’s attempts to escape legal accountability for sewage dumping.

The case was heard in the Supreme Court in Manchester at the beginning of March, and a decision is currently being awaited. 

‘The right answer is new laws to bring this shocking state of affairs to an end. The problem is the stranglehold that the corporate owners of these huge water companies have over Government policymaking. And the victim is the public, you and I, who live in a country that is, literally, overflowing with raw sewage.’

JOLYON MAUGHAM
Director, Good Law Project

‘The water companies have no shame’

The figures show United Utilities is not the only big polluter. South West water, a firm that declared £135m in profits in 2022, poured sewage into English water for a staggering 290,271 hours during the same year.

In total, raw sewage was dumped into rivers and coastal areas across England by private water companies for a total of 1.7million hours in 2022 – an equivalent of 4,808 hours every single day.

Seven other firms are shown to be polluting English waters to varying degrees.

Yorkshire Water was responsible for 54,273 sewage spills and Severn Trent Water discharged sewage through its network of storm overflows 44,765 times over 249,116 hours in 2022.

‘If it wasn’t obvious already, the water companies have no shame. The monopoly control the government has handed to them means they have no commercial incentive to do anything other than collect the money their customers have no choice over giving them.

‘We’ve had three Environment secretaries in the last year, and not one of them has made any progress on this. The government must end their snail-like approach and urgently set ambitious, binding near-term targets to improve water quality, and give the regulators the legal powers and funding necessary to enforce them.

‘Either the government does a u-turn, or watches its votes slide round the u-bend at the next General Election.’

MEGAN CORTON SCOTT
Political campaigner for Greenpeace UK

Legal challenge launched

The government published its Storm Overflows Discharges Reduction Plan last summer in an attempt to stem the flow. But the plan gives water companies until 2050 to improve their infrastructure.  

Good Law Project has launched a legal challenge, alongside the Marine Conservation Society, Richard Haward’s Oysters and surfer and activist Hugo Tagholm, which seeks to compel the government to make tougher targets.

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