Storm overflows normally happen when the sewage system is at risk of being overwhelmed - such as after heavy rain, or during higher levels of groundwater.
In these cases, water companies may need to release excess water and sewage into rivers and the sea, to prevent water backing up into the streets and people’s homes. This has an impact on the quality of our natural water sources, with some charities alleging storm overflows are being misused and under-reported.
Figures from the Envrionment Agency show storm overflows were used 1,525 times within High Peak’s local authority boundaries in 2022, discharging for a total of around 12,638 hours.
Of these, 1,299 were from United Utilities’ network, while 226 were from facilities operated by Severn Trent Water.
These figures may not provide a full picture of the amount of water pollution in the area - the High Peak may also be impacted by overspills from areas it shares water resources with.
Tessa Wardley, director of communications and advocacy at the Rivers Trust, urged ‘robust, urgent action’ on sewage and river management to help tackle the climate crisis and threats to biodiversity.
United Utilities saw 69,245 overspills across its network in 2022 - although 13 per cent of the company’s facilities did not report overspill data last year.
Meanwhile, Severn Trent Water had 44,765 spills recorded at all sites operated by the company, based on data from 14 per cent of the company’s facilties that could provide figures.
In total there were more than 300,000 overspills across England in 2022 - a 19 per cent reduction on more than 370,000 in 2021, although this may have been the product of weather conditions rather than improved infrastructure.
Water minister Rebecca Pow said the amount of sewage pumped into rivers is ‘utterly unacceptable’, adding the government has a plan to tackle pollution.
She said: “Targets set by the Government to reduce storm overflows are very strict and are leading to the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £56 billion over the next 25 years.
“Shortly, water companies will also publish action plans for every storm overflow in England, something the Environment Secretary has personally pressed for,” she said.
by Will Grimond, Data Reporter, Buxton Advertiser, 21 September 2023