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Comment: Government plans to address nutrient pollution in waterways

20 July 2022

Reacting to the Government’s plans to address nutrient pollution in waterways, including a legal duty on water companies in England to upgrade wastewater treatment works by 2030 in ‘nutrient neutrality’ areas, Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“The Government’s forthcoming amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to apply further pressure on water companies to clean up their act on sewage pollution in sensitive catchments is very welcome. There is no magic wand which can instantly reverse decades of decline in water quality, but step by step action is being taken to make sure water and sewerage companies are held to account and that the chemical cocktail which can course through our rivers is addressed.

There are several catchments where nutrient levels in waterways need improving before further development takes place. The measures announced today are a sensible and pragmatic twin-track approach to address these problems, reduce discharge of phosphorous into our waterways, including from sewage, while creating nature-based solutions to improve biodiversity through Natural England.

The build-up of excess nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen is reducing oxygen levels in rivers, and in severe cases, can cause fish kills. Only 45% of English rivers are rated ‘good’ for phosphorus levels. It is therefore absolutely critical that for the health of our rivers, we get a grip on excess nutrients.

However, as we made clear in our report considering Water quality in rivers, farming also has a part to play in reducing excess nutrients flowing into our rivers from animal waste. We repeat our recommendation that a periodic appraisal is undertaken of catchment-wide nutrient flows across each major river catchment in England to understand better the state of play.”

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