British sewage overflows suck cross-Channel relations

PARIS (AP) — EU lawmakers have a new post-Brexit reason to be upset with Britain: British sewage is overflowing and seeping into the English Channel and North Sea.

Heavy rain after weeks Dry weather overwhelmed parts of Britain’s sewage system last week, causing raw sewage to pour into rivers and seas. The issue is a long-standing problem in Britain, where regulators are investigating possible permit violations by six major water companies and environmental groups allege the companies have failed to make necessary repairs.

This is primarily a problem for the UK, where people were warned to stay away from dozens of beaches last week, raising concerns about public health and harm to wildlife. UK activist group Surfers Against Sewage reported 654 alerts of sewer overflows spilling sewage into bathing waters this summer, from 171 locations in England and Wales.

But three French members of the European Parliament sent a letter to the European Commission on Wednesday warning that the wastewater could also threaten bathing waters, fishing grounds and biodiversity in the European Union.

“The English Channel and the North Sea are not dumping grounds,” said Stephanie Yon-Courtin, a member of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee and a local councilor in Normandy.

“We cannot tolerate that the environment, the economic activity of our fishermen and the health of our citizens are seriously endangered by the UK’s repeated negligence in the management of its wastewater,” he said.

Lawmakers called on the Commission to “use all political and legal means at its disposal” to find a solution, accusing the UK of breaching its post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. They said that while the UK is no longer bound by EU environmental standards, it is still a signatory to the UN convention on maritime rights and is obliged to protect shared seawater.

The European Commission said it had so far not contacted London about the complaints. “We will pursue the matter as appropriate,” Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said Thursday.

Britain’s Conservative government has dismissed the criticism, saying it has strengthened water quality regulations since Brexit.

“We have also made it law for water companies to reduce the frequency and volume of storm surge discharges and we have made it law for water companies to install new monitors to report in real time any discharge of sewage into their area,” the Environment Department said. Food and Rural Affairs told the BBC.

But last week, the opposition Liberal Democrats released a report alleging that sewage discharges were not being properly recorded because many of the required monitoring devices were not working properly or had not yet been installed.

While UK water companies are prohibited from dumping untreated sewage under normal circumstances, they are allowed to do so when heavy rains threaten to overwhelm sewage treatment plants. Environmental groups allege that some companies exploit this exception to save money and avoid upgrading their systems.

During the Brexit breakup negotiations, the EU repeatedly expressed fears that the UK would abandon the bloc’s strict environmental standards and give in to business pressure for a more deregulated system that could jeopardize their shared environment.

The trade and cooperation agreement that came into force in early 2021 after Britain left the EU does not contain any specific provisions on how to deal with stormwater overflows.

Water UK, which represents water and wastewater companies, said its members were investing £3bn to tackle overflows as part of a national program to improve the environment between 2020 and 2025, recognizing “a need urgent need to act to address the damage caused to the environment. environment due to spills from pluvial overflows and wastewater treatment works”.

“Water companies cannot do this alone, so we are also calling on government, regulators, water companies, agriculture and other sectors to come together as soon as possible to come up with a comprehensive national plan to achieve transformation of our rivers and rivers. waterways we all want to see,” the water industry group said.


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