Stormy waters. Picture: Pixabay.

Water companies have agreed to new measures to help tackle the problem of river pollution from storm overflows.

 The commitment follows a joint industry/government Storm Overflows Taskforce established with the aim of eliminating pollution from storm overflows.

Overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into homes.

Water companies have agreed to measures including making data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round, which will allow swimmers and other water users to check the latest information – especially after heavy rainfall.

Companies have also agreed to speed up work to install monitoring devices and publish annual monitoring data on their websites about their use of storm overflows so progress in reducing their use can be tracked.

North West Norfolk MP James Wild has welcomed the measures. Mr Wild also supported a fellow MP’s bid for a Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill to improve water quality in rivers. 

The bill was due to be debated last Friday, but had to be postponed  due to Covid restrictions.

Mr Wild said: “I have been campaigning to reduce the extent of sewage being released into rivers which has happened hundreds of times in North West Norfolk. 

“These new measures will help to reverse the use of overflows so it only happens in exceptional circumstances. 

“By encouraging water companies to accelerate their efforts, these measures will play an important role in protecting these valuable ecosystem for aquatic species and so the public can enjoy our rivers.” 

The taskforce was set up in August to bring together water companies, regulators and environmental groups to accelerate progress.

The Rivers Trust charity, which has campaigned to end sewage pollution in rivers and lakes, also welcomed the measures.

The trust said it was disappointed the second reading of the bill had been postponed but was “encouraged” that Defra said it would work closely with the MP leading the bill and the taskforce to “eliminate harm from storm overflows, and increase transparency with regards to their use”.