Fears government plan to clean up UK's rivers 'too little too late' as sewage discharges continue

  • Watch Ken Goodwin's report

Campaigners have claimed the government's plans to tackles sewage being pumped into rivers in the South West are 'too little, too late'.

Water companies are allowed to use an overflow network of 3,000 storm drains during periods of heavy rain to prevent flooding and stop sewage from backing up into people's homes.

Tens of thousands of sewage discharges happen each year, but the government's plan aims to reduce that number by 70% by 2035 - eliminating them completely at some of the UK's most important protected sites.

A six-week consultation to look at the government's Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan ended on Thursday 12 May.

But campaigners the government's plan it is too little too late, with one river in the Cotswolds has suffered from years of discharges which is slowly killing parts of it.

Schoolboy Alex Haffernan and his friends put together a video highlighting their fears for the future of the river.

"Rivers won't be clean until I'm in my late 40s and my children are the age I am now," he said.

"Under current targets the river would only be starting to be cleaned up by the time I'm a middle-aged man."

He said it makes him "furious".

Soraya Wooller says she even worries about her dog swimming in the river

His mother, Soraya Wooller, added: "I have really serious anxieties about the risk to human health from being able to enjoy the things that we love doing.

"I'm really cautious about what the impacts are in human health and where we can safely undertake these activities. I'm even worried about letting my dog swim."

Speaking to ITV News West Country on the banks of the River Windrush in the Cotswolds, campaigner Ashley Smith said: "I cant see the bottom. It's ridiculous."

It comes after Thames Water discharged untreated sewage into the river for 3,664 hours on 228 separate times in 2020.

Mr Smith, who is a founding member of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP), said: "The gravel which should be golden, and was golden in my memory a few yers ago, is now covered in brown algae and sediment."

He added: "The government had an opportunity to call upon sewage companies to bring and end to dumping untreated sewage and take all reasonable steps to do so, but they rejected that and they forced that out of the legislation.

"They proposed something which just allows water companies to show improvement, and they are good at that and frankly it's not going to make the slightest bit of improvement."

But the cost of upgrading rivers is estimated to be anywhere between £150billion to £660billion.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow told ITV News West Country the government is the first to set out the expectation the water companies must act to reduce the harm caused by storm overflows.

She said: "I am very clear that we will not hesitate to take action if progress is not being made."