Are you drinking what we’re drinking?

16 Mar 2024
A hand in a plastic glove is using a flask to collect a sample from standing water

Untreated sewage is pouring into UK waters more than 1,000 times a day. Between 2020 and 2022, England's water companies used storm overflows over a million times, totalling a shocking 7.5 million hours. Millions of litres of water are lost to leaks each day. Just 3 in 20 of England’s rivers are in a ‘good’ ecological state. 

How did it get to this?

Since the Conservatives privatised English water companies, those companies have piled on £54 billion in debt and handed out £66 billion in dividends to shareholders. All while failing to properly invest in the infrastructure we need.

And they’ve been allowed to get away with it - by a toothless regulator and a Conservative government that doesn’t seem interested in making polluters pay. The Environment Agency, severely underfunded, has struggled to enforce the law effectively.

The status quo is simply not working, and it's time for a new approach.

That’s why today, Liberal Democrats have passed new policy to address this national scandal. Our plan is comprehensive and ambitious, aimed at transforming our waterways, protecting our environment, and holding water companies accountable for their actions.

  • Ending Sewage Dumping: Set meaningful targets and deadlines or water companies to end sewage discharges.
  • Sewage Tax: Introduce a tax on water company profits to fund the cleanup of waterways.
  • Robust regulation: Abolish Ofwat and establish a new 'Coastal, Rivers and Lakes Authority' with strengthened regulatory powers to issue fines to the top executives of water companies and initiate prosecutions in extreme cases.
  • Reform water companies: Turn water companies into public benefit companies so that particular economic and environmental policy objectives must be considered.
  • Increase monitoring: End the current system of “self monitoring” and ensure unannounced spot checks are part of the new regulatory framework. Mandate that new monitors cover designated bathing waters and sites of environmental importance such as SSSIs.
  • Local Empowerment: Give Local authorities increased powers to hold water companies accountable, with new water boards and catchment partnerships.
  • Protecting Citizens: Extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover water companies and introduce a new 'Sewage Illness Victim Compensation Scheme'. Permit citizens, charities and other groups to take water companies to court. 
  • Promoting Transparency: Require consumer representatives to be included on water company boards, and ensure bills clearly show where money is spent. Make  water companies fund local environmental reporters.
  • Investment and Innovation: Water companies will have 25-year investment plans, including nature-based solutions and innovative approaches to water management.
  • Clean swims: Increase the number of designated bathing water sites to 1,500 by 2030. Set legally binding targets to prevent sewage dumping into bathing waters and highly sensitive nature sites.
  • Eliminating water poverty: Create a new water social tariff, aiming to eliminate water poverty by the end of the next parliament. Ensure that energy retrofitting programmes also include measures to improve water resilience and cut bills. 

Liberal Democrats are leading the charge to clean up our rivers, lakes and coastlines. It's time to put an end to sewage dumping, protect our precious waterways, and ensure a sustainable water system for generations to come.

Stop Sewage Dumping

Back our plan to end the sewage scandal

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