Environment Agency data unveils alarming Birmingham sewage rate you need to know about

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Huge rise in sewage spills in Birmingham according to Environment Agency data

The number of hours sewage was released into Birmingham's waterways rose by nearly two-thirds last year, new figures show.

Data from the Environment Agency shows sewage from storm overflows was flowing into water bodies in Birmingham for 4,513 hours in 2023, during 2,379 spills.

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This was up from 2,773 hours recorded the year before, when there were 1,912 spills in the area. All of these were from facilities operated by Severn Trent Water, which has highlighted that it is investing millions on storm overlfows to improve river health (see full response to the findings below).

Storm overflows are used when the water system becomes overloaded, such as after heavy rain or from problems with the sewage network.

How does the sewage rate in Birmingham compare to the rest of the country?

The Environment Agency figures further show the number of hours of sewage spills from water companies across England has doubled over the past year – with the Environment Agency saying wet weather may be to blame.

These figures cover the original location sewage was discharged into the environment – the area might also be impacted by sewage released upstream or in shared water bodies. Meanwhile, England saw a massive rise in both the number of spills and how long sewage was discharged for.

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Last year 3.6 million hours were recorded – with less than 1.8 million hours in 2022 – while the number of spills rose from 301,000 to 464,000.

What do environmental campaigners say about the sewage rates?

The Environment Agency said this rise may be partly due to the country experiencing its sixth-wettest year on record. But James Wallace, chief executive of campaign group River Action, said water companies have "run amok" with their customers' money. "The scale of the discharges by water companies is a final indictment of a failing industry," he said.

Sewage spills rise in BirminghamSewage spills rise in Birmingham
Sewage spills rise in Birmingham

Sienna Somers, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Scandalous inaction by water companies has pushed our ecosystems to the brink and is putting our health at risk. "But the real sewage scandal is our Government’s pursuit of deregulation and deep cuts to the Environment Agency, which means even ministers are in the dark about the true extent of water pollution," she added.

What does Severn Trent and the water industry say about the sewage spills findings?

A spokesperson for Severn Trent said: “In 2023, Birmingham and the Black Country experienced 35 percent more rain than in 2022, with the wettest period on record during Storm Babet . Severn Trent operations now currently account for 13 percent of the reasons why rivers in Birmingham and the Black Country aren't achieving good ecological status, with 87 percent attributable to other sectors  

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“Recently announcement of £680 million investment on 411 storm overflows, improving river health in Birmingham and the Black Country. Since launching its Get River Positive, Severn Trent has delivered strong results and committed to significant investment in Birmingham and the Black Country, including:  

  • Investing £14.3 million to upgrade Lower Gormal Sewage Treatment Works to achieve a higher level of treatment and improve the health of the Holbeche Brook.

  • A £6.5 investment to upgrade Coleshill Sewage Treatment Works to maintain a high level treatment and improve the health of the River Tame.

Visit www.getriverpositive.co.uk for more information and to sign up for the newsletter for regular progress updates.    

A spokesperson for industry body Water UK said: "These results are unacceptable and demonstrate exactly why we urgently need regulatory approval to upgrade our system so it can better cope with the weather.

"We have a plan to sort this out by tripling investment which will cut spills by 40% by 2030 – more than double the Government’s target. We now need the regulator Ofwat to give us the green light so that we can get on with it," they urged.

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The water companies say they want to triple investment to £10 billion over the period 2025-2030 to tackle the problem, which would be paid for through consumer bills. The overflow figures were described as "disappointing" but "sadly not surprising" by the Environment Agency’s director of water, Helen Wakeham.

She said: "We are pleased to see record investment from the water sector, but we know it will take time for this to be reflected in spill data – it is a complex issue that won’t be solved overnight."

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