The Daily Telegraph

Public never used to mind sewage spills, says water boss

- By Emma Gatten environmen­t editor

WATER companies have downplayed sewage pollution because it was previously considered “acceptable” by the public, the boss of a major supplier has said.

Peter Perry, chief executive of Welsh Water, said sewage overflows from storm tanks were “no longer as acceptable as it may have been in the past”, in evidence to a House of Lords committee yesterday.

Water companies spilled sewage into England’s rivers and canals 372,533 times in 2021, with the incidents lasting for more than 2.6 million hours. They are allowed to release sewage into rivers to stop flooding into people’s homes, but only in exceptiona­l circumstan­ces.

Mr Perry said it was important to tackle all sources of pollution in rivers, including agricultur­al sources, rather than focusing solely on sewage overflows, but acknowledg­ed that water companies could no longer avoid tackling the problem.

“I don’t want to downplay combined sewer overflows at all, this is no longer the route that we can use that we’ve probably had available to us in the past,” he said. “But for us, it would not be the right target to make the maximum environmen­tal improvemen­t to all Welsh rivers.”

Mr Perry was giving evidence to a Lords Committee on the work of Ofwat, as the regulator comes under pressure to crack down on sewage pollution.

He said sewage was “not the main form of pollution in all parts of the UK”, adding: “That said, we certainly recognise that our customers and society at large is concerned about this, and we’re investing in it.”

The bosses of Southern and Thames Water told the committee that resolving the majority of the sewage overflow problem would cost each water company around £2 billion. Sarah Bentley, of Thames Water, said there had been a “corporate change in position about the unacceptab­ility of them”.

Lawrence Gosden, of Southern Water, said it was important to tackle the problem “sustainabl­y”.

“Because if we just built storage, that would increase the carbon footprint of the industry dramatical­ly,” he said. “And we don’t want to be doing that.”

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