What’s the Government’s plan for measuring storm overflow volumes?

17th May 2022

Silence in the recent Government Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan consultation on how the volume of storm overflows will be measured…speaks volumes.

In its response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report into Water Quality in Rivers, Government Ministers rejected the idea of asking water companies to install volume monitors on their storm overflows. 

The Environmental Audit Committee had recommended that water companies take immediate steps to install volume monitors at all points where overflows may discharge from their sewerage networks, so as to provide continuous real-time monitoring of the volume of discharges consistent with the provisions of the Environment Act 2021. 

It appears that the water companies have told the Government that measuring volumes will be “limited by technical feasibility and cost”. 

That puts the Government in a bit of a bind.  Because the clock is ticking.   Before 1 September 2022, the Secretary of State must prepare a Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan which includes reducing the volume of the discharges. 

Currently Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) information is limited.  Start and stop times of discharges only are recorded.  In terms of understanding when and why and how storm overflows are operating annualised EDM data published by the Environment Agency is therefore only of limited value.

If the Government is not going to insist on water companies installing volume monitors, exactly what information is the Secretary of State going to use to understand current volumes coming out of storm overflows in order to plan for reducing them? 

Is the idea simply to ask the water companies themselves whether volumes have reduced?  The recent Southern Water prosecution is ample proof that data from the water companies cannot be relied upon.  The current major investigation by Ofwat and the Environment Agency reinforces this point.

It begs the question, what is the plan for the plan?

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