The time to act on storm releases is now

Ian McAulay, CEOA letter from Ian McAulay, CEO of Southern Water

The Environment Bill currently making its way through Parliament has brought the issue of water pollution to the forefront of public debate. While we welcome the strengthening of the Bill, it is now time for the water industry working with the Government, regulators and customers to move forward with swift and bold action - not in the medium or long term - but now.

Much of the discussion in the media and Government focuses on pollution caused by storm releases through Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These heavily regulated releases of wastewater during rainfall protect people’s homes and businesses and other properties from the misery of flooding. They are an integral part of our Victorian-era sewage system. Storm releases typically occur during periods of heavy rainfall and are more than 95 per cent rainwater.

To spearhead our drive to cut storm overflows by 80 per cent by 2030, I am this week setting up a task force. This is part of the company’s zero tolerance approach to pollution and part of a wider investment plan to deliver a step-change in water quality in the area.

The task force will work in tandem with our ambitious £1.5 billion investment programme, which is on track to reduce by 80 per cent all pollution incidents by 2025. It will take a cross sector approach working with local stakeholders to find innovative practical solutions to cut overflows. Its aim is to find new innovative solutions so we can go further and faster at tackling this issue.

Using more nature-based approaches has the potential to become a game changer. This is because the most efficient, cost effective and environmentally friendly way to tackle overflows is to separate rain water from the sewer system by using natural solutions such as ponds and wetlands, soak aways and rain gardens. Our work in the summer showed that by reducing the amount of rainwater run-off from roads and roofs entering the pipeline system by around 40 per would mean an 80 per cent reduction in storm overflows.

We know people are rightly more aware and more concerned than ever before about the use of storm overflows. We share that concern which is why we are equipping our customers and those who use our local world-class beaches and waterways with the latest information on overflows of stormwater through our industry-leading Beachbuoy near real-time storm release reporting system.

This increased transparency on storm overflows makes it easier for everyone to hold us to account for cutting these incidents and we are confident our customers will see a real improvement as our investment plans begin to take effect. We will keep you updated on our progress.

Signed by Ian McAulay, CEO

Ian McAulay, CEO of Southern Water