Anglian Water sewage spills almost doubled last year

Anglian Water has pledged to spend £66 million to tackle storm overflows in Lincolnshire, after sewage spills into local rivers almost doubled in the last 12 months.
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There were 459,852 sewage spills in England’s waterways last year, which is around double last year’s total, according to figures from the Environment Agency.

The numbers make for grim reading in Lincolnshire also, with Anglian Water being responsible for 31,623 spills in 2023, a 97 per cent increase on the 2022 figure.

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Anglian Water will be looking to plough £66 million into tackling storm spills in Lincolnshire from now to 2030, with a taskforce being set up across the East of England.

Concerns about increases in storm overflows from sewage works in the Anglian Water area. Photo: Ellis KarranConcerns about increases in storm overflows from sewage works in the Anglian Water area. Photo: Ellis Karran
Concerns about increases in storm overflows from sewage works in the Anglian Water area. Photo: Ellis Karran

Other improvements will be focused on hotspot locations, as well as increasing storm water storage at water recycling centres as rainwater runs into the same drains as sewage.

The investment for Lincolnshire includes some £5.6 million for more monitors across the sewer network, almost £1 million for new screens and £37 million to increase treatment capacity to cater for population growth in specific Lincolnshire areas, such as Sleaford, Metheringham and Brant Broughton.

The most prominent areas for sewage dumps in the area were Fulbeck, Nettleham, Brant Broughton and Metheringham, with over 100 spills reported in each location.

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An Anglian Water spokesperson said the company was disappointed by the figures, citing “more extreme weather events” as a cause for the increase, with 70 per cent of the spills taking place in the last three months of 2023.

Coun Clare Smalley. Photo: SubmittedCoun Clare Smalley. Photo: Submitted
Coun Clare Smalley. Photo: Submitted

But the Environment Agency (EA) said that despite 2023 being the 6th wettest year since records began, this does not excuse the figures.

“It is important to note that heavy rainfall does not affect water companies’ responsibility to manage storm overflows in line with legal requirements,” a spokesperson said.

Another mitigating factor is the increase in event duration monitors at storm overflows in recent years. In 2010, just seven per cent of overflow sites had these fitted, now 100 per cent of them do, making England a world leader in storm overflow monitoring.

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In February, the Environment Agency announced a fourfold increase in investigations into water companies, as part of a “tougher regime” that has been fully funded by government and water company permits.

Reported storm overflows in the last year. Photo: Environment AgencyReported storm overflows in the last year. Photo: Environment Agency
Reported storm overflows in the last year. Photo: Environment Agency

The organisation is also currently undertaking the largest ever criminal investigation into “potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at thousands of sewage treatment works.”

Since 2015, over £150 million in fines have been secured from 59 prosecutions against water and sewerage companies by the Environment Agency.

This clampdown is focused on driving improved standards across the sector, with Anglian Water receiving a two-star inspection from the Environment Agency in consecutive years.

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Last year, Anglian Water was ordered to pay back £22 million in the form of reduced customer bills as a result of poor performance, as water regulator Ofwat listed the provider as a “lagging company.”

Reacting to the Environment Agency’s figures, a spokesperson for Ofwat said the data was “very disappointing” and provided “further evidence” that performance on the environment is “simply not good enough.”

“We are acutely aware of the damage this does to our natural resources and to public trust. Where companies fall short, we act.”

But will this go far enough? City of Lincoln Councillor Clare Smalley (Liberal Democrat) has called for reform of the system, to the tune of a “tougher” regulator than Ofwat.

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The Lincoln Liberal Democrat group has also called for a blanket ban on water board bosses receiving bonuses when their company has been found to dump sewage in rivers and seas.

Coun Smalley said it is a “complete scandal” and called on tougher action from regulators and central government.

“Our community should not be forced to put up with this any longer.”

Karl McCartney (Conservative) and a host of other Greater Lincolnshire Conservative MPs, including Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford & North Hykeham), Lia Nici (Great Grimsby), Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) and Victoria Atkins (Louth & Horncastle), voted down Amendment 45 of the Environment Act in late 2021.

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The amendment would have required water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to avoid using sewage overflows, and when Conservative MPs voted against it, a series of mock blue plaques emerged in their constituencies criticising their decision.

Karl McCartney slammed the plaques as being “deliberate misinformation” and said the overall Environment Act would take sufficient steps to protect waterways.