River Leven, Low Green, Great Ayton

I remember the day when the government U-turned on their proposal to allow privatised water companies to continue the routine dumping of raw sewage into our rivers and our beaches, after a public outcry and a rebellion by 22 Tory MPs, an amendment to the environment bill that would have provided some safeguards was voted down1Horton, H. (2021). UK government U-turns on sewage after Tory MPs threaten rebellion. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/26/uk-government-u-turns-on-sewage-after-tory-mps-threaten-rebellion [Accessed 7 Nov. 2021].. It’s hard to believe this was less than two weeks ago.

In the aftermath, Full Fact has stated that “the amendment rejected by the government would have also allowed the pumping of sewage into rivers, but required it to be progressively reduced.”2Full Fact (2021). Murky claims about sewage bill fact checked – Full Fact. [online] Full Fact. Available at: https://fullfact.org/environment/murky-claims-about-sewage-bill-fact-checked/ [Accessed 7 Nov. 2021].

In these days of social media and instant news, I think the government has learnt it’s best to rush things through Parliament before allow them time to ferment in public opinion. Tomorrow (Monday, 7th November), the government is having a second attempt at pushing through a modified amendment that would allow the water companies to dump sewage.

So the new proposal means that all a water company has to do is to reduce the amount of sewage dumped, even by the most minuscule fraction, and it can carry on dumping. So long as a “progressive reduction” is achieved, the water company is in the clear3Posting on Twitter by Jo Maugham, Director of the Good Law Project. @JolyonMaugham. Available online at: https://twitter.com/JolyonMaugham/status/1456897005624741888 [Accessed 7 Nov. 2021].. It seems to me to be a subtle change.

Furthermore, members of the public, swimmers, fishermen, or anyone else with an interest, will all be banned from enforcing the right to compel a reduction in raw sewage dumping. Only a Government Minister will have the power to enforce that right4Ibid..

Just as a reminder, a Guardian article in 2020 reported that the privatised water companies have taken over £57 billion in dividends5Laville, S. (2020). England’s privatised water firms paid £57bn in dividends since 1991. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/01/england-privatised-water-firms-dividends-shareholders [Accessed 7 Nov. 2021].. Money that could have been used to improve the sewage infrastructure.

Today’s featured image is of the River Leven as it flows through Low Green in Great Ayton. Just over a kilometre downstream is the Great Ayton Sewage Treatment Works — I was going to take a photo of the works, but thought better of it. Anyhow, as an example, in 2020 the sewer storm overflow at this works spilled 62 sewage times for a total of 742 hours6Arcgis.com. (2021). Experience. [online] Available at: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/e834e261b53740eba2fe6736e37bbc7b/page/home/?data_id=dataSource_4-1788e0d0481-layer-54%3A20618&draft=true&org=theriverstrust [Accessed 7 Nov. 2021].. Now I may be a bit naive interpreting this literally but it seems to say that 8.45%7366 x 24 = 8,784 hours of the time this sewage treatment works was discharging sewage direct into the River Leven. Downstream lie the communities of Stokesley and Hutton Rudby before the river flows into the River Tees. Below the confluence is Preston Park, a popular open water swimming spot, the watersports centre at the Tees Barrage, and of course the North Sea with bathing beaches at Coatham, Redcar and Saltburn.

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