Page last updated at 08:12 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

Campaigners fight over river sewage

By Dr David Gregory
Science and environment correspondent, BBC Midlands Today

Dead fish in a river
Overflows have been linked to some pollution incidents

Campaigners against water pollution are supporting attempts by the Environment Agency to stop sewage flowing into rivers from unregulated overflows.

According to figures released to the BBC there are more than 500 unregulated sewer overflows draining into Midlands rivers out of 3,000 nationwide.

The Environment Agency wants the overflows regulated but some water companies have lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate.

The overflows have been linked to several pollution incidents over the years which have led to the deaths of hundreds of fish.

Angling trust Fish Legal said because overflows were unregulated it was difficult to know how much of a problem they were because no one was monitoring them.

Sewage causes the oxygen levels to drop in a river and can kill fish. Without restrictions there is no legal redress for the damage to fishing rights or the environment.

Which is an absolutely shameless position to find themselves in
Guy Linley-Adams, Fish Legal

The unregulated sewer overflows are a legacy of privatisation. They are effectively emergency valves that allow the release of raw or diluted sewage into rivers to avoid potential problems in drains.

The overflows were temporarily lifted out of restrictions just before water privatisation but this temporary arrangement has lasted for 20 years.

Leominster-based Fish Legal has been campaigning to reintroduce restrictions on these overflows.

Guy Linley-Adams from the trust said he was "amazed" to discover some of the largest water companies were appealing against the revised regulations.

He said their stance was "an absolutely shameless position to find themselves in".

'Technical basis'

Severn Trent Water, one of the companies involved in the appeal, said it was "on the technical basis of the consents issued by the Environment Agency".

It added: "It does not mean that we have any intention of causing pollution from these combined sewer overflows now or in the future. Over the past 10 years we have spent over £250m on improving combined sewer overflows."

Welsh Water, responsible for water and sewage in Herefordshire, said: "We support the principle of bringing the remaining pre-privatisation temporary consents into line with modern consents.

"However, we are now involved in an appeal process with Environment Agency Wales and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time."

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