At Council on 26th October 2022 it was resolved to ask the Scrutiny committee, or other appropriate committee, to invite a senior representative of South West Water, the Environment Agency and Natural England, to attend a meeting to answer questions on the current levels of sewage discharge.
Representatives from South West Water Authority (SWWA) had been invited to attend and the following questions were put to them:
· The UK has the dirtiest rivers in Europe. Here in Mid Devon, in 2021, SWWA discharged sewage into local rivers and seas over 2,068 times, totalling over 20,853 hours of sewage discharge in just one year (monitoring was carried out on 53 of the 93 storm overflows). Last year, Ofwat opened an enforcement case with SWWA, after heightened concerns about its environmental performance which suggested it was not complying with its obligations. SWWA must have known this was the case before enforcement action was started, so why was SWWA not complying and therefore knowingly harming rivers and seas?
· What action has been taken so far as a result of this enforcement case? How much money are you investing and where will this go?
· The Environment Act has driven increased monitoring and reporting of storm overflows. Since this requirement, what has SWWA done to identify and reduce sewage spills and pollution? Can you give us the latest numbers on how many discharge events there have been?
· What other work is planned and in what timeframe?
· What are you doing to ensure your wastewater treatment works are operating as they should?
· What can you do to input to local authority planning processes, so that we can better assess whether existing treatment works have the capacity for new development? Do you have information available to be able to assess the impact of development on the number and duration of sewage discharges into local rivers? Will you be willing to share this information?
· How will SWWA and the Environment Agency be working together to monitor this work?
· How are you / how will you be keeping customers informed of your actions?
Mark Worsfold from South West Water Authority gave the following responses:
· Events were monitored via event duration monitors and the numbers of these had been increased to cover all storm over flows
· There was an open enforcement and criminal case and he could not respond to this question due to legal privilege
· Although unable to respond to the open enforcement case he confirmed £333m had been invested via Waterfit in 200 storm overflows
· Operational action had been taken to increase the number of monitors and increased maintenance activity. No of spills had been reduced by 75% for overflows in the bathing season
· The Waterfit program ran until 2025 and SWWA was preparing submissions to both the Environment Agency and OFWAT
· The Water Resources Management Plan looked at a series of actions and engagement with customers. The plan set out actions over 25 years and was currently open to public consultation
· There were continued reviews of treatment works including daily and weekly reports and an investment program
· SWWA were undertaking a number of tests for phosphates and nitrates. The Government set targets through the Environment ACT and required Water Authorities to reduce levels by up to 80%
· 45% of phosphate was from agricultural practices but this should reduce with new legislation for farmers
· Drainage and wastewater management plans set out the plans for new developments. There was currently a consultation on this which was open until the end of May
· SWWA and the Environment Agency had a close working relationship as they were the regulator
· SWWA were close to publishing real time information re storm overflows. When this goes live it would be available to view on their website.
· Environment Agency and Natural England had their own processes but there were no gaps in these highlighted by SWWA
· There would be a need in future to look at more solutions for grey water drainage, storage and distribution
In addition, the Director of Place confirmed that he was not aware of any specific request by SWWA to respond to the consultation on Drainage and Wastewater management plans but he would follow this up.