The Government has announced a consultation on the plan, which outlines several measures to reduce the environmental impact of storm overflows, as required by law in the Environment Act which Mr Dunne pressed for last year.
By 2035, the environmental impacts of 3,000 storm overflows (75 per cent) affecting the most important protected sites will have been eliminated;
By 2035, there will be 70 per cent fewer discharges into bathing waters;
By 2040, approximately 160,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated (40 per cent of the total); and by 2050, approximately 320,000 discharges, on average, will have been eliminated (80 per cent of the total).
The consultation outlines how water companies are expected to achieve these targets.
It also outlines how those water companies who do not meet expectations will be held to account, including through a new monitoring and reporting framework, which was also legislated for in the Environment Act.
This significantly improves the ability of both Ofwat and the Environment Agency to take enforcement action where needed.
Mr Dunne chairs parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, which published a report on water quality in rivers in January this year, with recommendations to government on how to improve river water quality.
Mr Dunne says this latest announcement from government builds on some of the recommendations in that report.
“The Government’s announcement today represents a sea change in policy action around sewage,” said Mr Dunne.
“For far too long—as we emphasised in our report on Water Quality in Rivers—policymakers, water companies and regulators have all turned a blind eye to the awful and disgusting practice of discharging raw sewage into our waterways.
“I welcome this announcement, which acknowledges many of the committee’s recommendations, and we look forward to the full Government response to our report.”
Mr Dunne also hopes for an end to “our Victorian pipe system”.
He adds: “We are under no illusions that the scale of the challenge is significant, but when executives are paid handsomely and utility bills rising, consumers expect and demand more.
“There is simply no excuse for the substandard infrastructure and damaging practices which have such a negative impact on our rivers, especially during a climate and nature crisis.
“Headline after headline about atrocious sewage discharges have made us all angry.
“I encourage all who care about the health of our rivers to respond constructively to the Government’s consultation so that lasting and effective changes in policy and practice can be made.”
The Environment Agency has published figures showing how often and how long each monitored storm overflow discharged during 2021.
Mr Dunne says discharge figures for treatment plants in 2021 showed an 8 per cent reduction in the number of discharges compared to 2020, from an increased number of treatment facilities monitored. But it still showed 372,533 discharges for over 2.6 million hours.
Mr Dunne said: “The 2021 statistics on sewage discharges published today shows that there has been a welcome reduction compared with 2020 data.
“This may be indicative of less rainfall in 2021 putting less pressure on the system.
“But regardless of how many sewage discharges there were, and continue to be, it is still far too high and unacceptable. It is precisely why this problem needs to be tackled and why I welcome Government action to do so.”