Morland Beck sewer outflow

Sewage stats show improvement for Eden’s rivers, but Defra’s plan threatens stagnation

With the latest figures from the Environment Agency now out showing how much raw sewage was released in England in 2021, we welcome the improvements made in the Eden catchment over the last year but caution that Defra’s plan threatens the pace and progress needed to ensure clean and healthy rivers that can support a brighter future for all.

Elizabeth Radford, CEO responded to the figures:

We are pleased to see that the overall amount and frequency of untreated sewage discharged over the last year has decreased in the Eden catchment. Despite this, there were still 6,495 reported sewage discharges that spilled for a total of 51,397 hours during 2021, so there is a long way to go before Eden’s rivers are sewage-free all year round.

Snapshot from around the catchment

Overall, the number of spills in the catchment is down by 32% and the hours that sewage was discharged for is down by 35% – outperforming the average for England. There is no information supplied that indicates why spills have declined, so any improvement cannot be attributed to any particular drivers.

8% of the total number of hours that sewage is spilt into Eden’s rivers is down to one location – Cargo wastewater treatment works, with 361 spills for a total of 3,503 hours. However, this is a significant reduction from the 6,233 hours reported by this site in 2020 (warning, may be understated as this site has flagged an issue with reporting data in 2021).

Glassonby has gone from being the 3rd worst performer in 2020 with 284 spills to zero spills in 2021 – good news for wildlife in Glassonby Beck.

Morland Beck now has the dubious honour of being the 2nd worst performer in the catchment with the number of spills increasing by 38% to 315 Despite spilling more often, this site is discharging sewage for a shorter amount of time – still sizeable at 1,875 hours (which is 44% lower than 2020).

Brough wastewater treatment works reduced the number of times it discharged sewage in 2021, but the number of hours it spilled for increased from 368 hours to an unacceptable 2,780

In 2020, Askham wastewater treatment works only discharged sewage for 10 hours. Last year this had surged to 1,177 hours.

On a positive note, more stations reported data in 2021, with United Utilities committing to fitting event duration monitors to the rest by the end of 2023.

Defra's plan threatens stagnation

Ahead of the release of the 2021 statistics, Defra announced a consultation on their proposed Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan (SODRP). However, we do not think this plan goes far enough, fast enough.

Elizabeth continues:

In their recent road map, United Utilities has recently committed to reducing spills by a third by 2025 – a much faster timescale than the government is proposing. We are facing a climate and nature crisis; we’re calling on the government to set discharge targets and timescales that reflect the urgency that is needed.

We appreciate that water companies are key to ensuring our rivers are clean and healthy, but in the Eden, we also need everyone else with responsibility for managing stormwater and diffuse pollution to come on board too, such as developers, councils, farmers and landowners.

Our rivers deserve better. We encourage residents and businesses alike in the Eden catchment to respond to this consultation before 12 May and stand up for the cleaner, healthier water we all expect and deserve.

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What Eden Rivers Trust is doing

We believe in working with a wide range of partners to tackle the issues around river pollution and have put plans in place with United Utilities (UU) to work on a number of initiatives that will improve the health of Eden’s rivers. These include:

  • Working with local farmers and landowners in the Petteril to reduce levels of phosphate reaching and polluting rivers and groundwater,
  • Inspiring the next generation to Act for Eden through a schools programme that explores how to use water wisely, stop pollution and protect rivers.

UU is also supporting our River Guardians volunteering programme this summer  – cleaning up and improving rivers.


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Eden Rivers Kingfisher Icon