Allow water companies to get rid of polluted rivers

Whistleblowers said the Environment Agency failed to stop firms dumping raw sewage into England’s rivers

The Environment Agency (EA) has been accused of allowing water companies to pollute England’s rivers.

Whistleblowers said they ignored their duties and failed to stop businesses dumping raw sewage into the country’s rivers.

The claims appear in the film “SEVERN: the poisoning of Britain’s Amazon”, which focuses on the River Severn in Gloucestershire.

However, the EA said it was “holding the industry accountable on an unprecedented scale.”

He admitted that the water quality and ecological health of the country’s rivers must be “improved”.

To do this he said he was in the process of “writing an action plan for the Severn, to address how we can help salmon in the Severn to recover stocks to a sustainable level”.

Speaking anonymously in the film, several whistleblowers – including current and former EA officials – told the film that the regulator was ignoring its duties and failing to hold water companies accountable.

‘Useless’ enforcement action

One said it was “difficult to represent” the EA and “impossible to influence the work”.

And if it continues, they warned, there is a risk for England to rely on voluntary measures and self-regulation to prevent illegal sewage discharges.

Another insider claimed the regulator was “the biggest threat to water quality in the future”.

“Any changes to how water quality is regulated will be due to public outcry, not because the Environment Agency suddenly considers water quality to be a priority,” they said.

In most cases, regulations are not used that require current and former employees to allow the CA to take enforcement action.

The film – by environmental media organization ENDS Report – focused on the Severn, as it is Britain’s longest river and “the issues surrounding it show the state of pollution problems”.

There are approximately 400 rivers, 29 lakes and 33 bodies of groundwater in the Severn estuary. The EA’s last assessment in 2019 found 45 to be in good ecological condition, he said.

‘I got really sick’

Lifeboat volunteer David Deveney spent days in hospital after contracting a sewage-related parasite infection following a river training exercise on the Severn two years ago.

He contracted giardiasis after spending two hours in the river and said an investigation found an 80% chance it came from human sewage.

Speaking to BBC Radio Gloucestershire, he explained: “I got very ill and had to be in hospital two years ago after doing training sessions between the Severn and the Wye.

“I couldn’t keep anything in or down – I took samples which went to the GP – who said I was ill after consuming human waste.

“In total, I had to take three weeks off work.

“We now try to limit the amount of time people spend in the water and we have strict guidelines for people to follow.

“We have very strict decontamination procedures that we have to follow when all the crew and boats are disinfected.”

Rachel Salvidge, from the ENDS Report, accused regulators of “withdrawing from their regulatory role and failing to properly account for polluters”.

“We hope to reveal the seriousness of the situation further,” she said.

“Urgent changes are needed to enforce regulatory standards in our rivers. Water companies should not be allowed to continue to behave like this.”

In 2021, there were more than 20,000 reports of water bodies discharging untreated sewage into the River Severn alone, the ENDS Report claimed.

In a statement the EA said: “We are in the process of writing an action plan for the Severn to address how we can help salmon in the Severn to recover stocks to a sustainable level.

“This includes regulation, advice and actions for all sectors that have an impact on the river.”

A Severn Trent spokesman said they take their role in protecting the region’s rivers very seriously.

The company said the rivers were now the healthiest since the industrial revolution and that they were investing £100m a year to further improve water quality.

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