Recent downpours after weeks of extremely dry weather led to Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) discharges returning to many areas across Sussex. CSOs are when diluted wastewater is released without full treatment into the environment.
Although this issue is back in the news this week, it’s a permanent feature on my desk. Over the past five years, my team and I have worked with every key agency and player to tackle this issue. As part of this work, I co-founded a forum with Penny Mordaunt and Alan Mak to hold Southern Water to account as they improve the situation in the Chichester, Pagham, and Langston Harbours and surrounding rivers.
In response to the recent CSOs, I and my fellow West Sussex MP’s wrote the Chief Executives of Southern Water and the Environment Agency asking them to attend Parliament to outline their clear project plan with an ambitious timeline to end sewage discharge into our environment. I also reached out to Chichester Harbour Conservancy Director, Richard Craven, as he tests water quality across the whole harbour every two weeks against EU bathing standards. I was relieved to hear that they remain excellent across the board.
When I became an MP, I never imagined I would ever learn so much about the removal of wastewater. It is shocking to think such practices still happen in the 21st century, but you have to know there’s a problem to fix it. Last year, roughly 90% of storm overflows were monitored, up from just 6% in 2016. By next year we will monitor every release.
The Environment Act we passed has driven these changes even before we passed it – and it will transform the water industry. It will ensure a long-term view is taken and that water companies not only reduce but end the need for regular discharges.
To be clear, anyone who claims legislation or money could end sewage releases into the environment tomorrow is being dishonest. The alternative to CSOs is wastewater backing up into our homes and onto our streets. Do we need better infrastructure, more investment, and higher accountability? YES – and this Government is the first since the Victorians built the system to get to grips with it. Keep up to date on all my work – www.gilliankeegan.com