Why doesn’t Defra want to talk about ‘dirty waters’?

Why doesn’t Defra want to talk about ‘dirty waters’?

Charles Clover made no apologies in his Sunday Times piece at the weekend, he simply stated the facts of the matter as he had researched them which in short, drew him to conclude that “There is still a lot of untreated sewage in our rivers and coastal waters that nobody wants to talk about.”

We would not particularly expect readers to be surprised to learn that the standards for river water is lower than for beaches, but Clover informs us that there are still some around 30,000 outfalls which discharge raw sewage across England and Wales.

To add insult to injury …. water quality standards only have to be met in the bathing season that is to say May 15 to September 30 in England and Wales, June 1 to September 15 in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  Outside that, information is scarce.  Groups such as Surfers Against Sewage consider that the lack of year-round information makes it impossible to identify outfalls that are discharging raw sewage too frequently.

Clover encourages us all to celebrate the recent victory in court of Fish Legal, a membership organisation for fishery interests, against United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and wait for it … yes, the government!  The water companies argued they were not covered by an obligation under European law to provide environmental information as they were private companies.  Not surprising perhaps as it would have some serious implications for them if they were required to comply with EU legislation?

The case took six years, cost Fish Legal around £150,000 and went to the European Court of Justice and back before a tribunal ruled that water companies are indeed public authorities because they retain powers of the old water authorities, such as digging up the roads to replace pipes.

The most outrageous thing about the case is that the water companies had the backing of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)?  We learn that apparently Defra did not want freedom of environmental information to apply to other utilities.  Perhaps we could be forgiven for questioning why?

Clover reminds us that Defra is the department that has allowed polluters of all kinds to self-regulate, to compile test results themselves and to act on them and he is generous to the ConDem Coalition Government as he suggests that it is fair enough as it needed to save money.  Whilst he goes on to say that …. the only way to check up on what is actually happening in the environment is to empower the public to ask questions and require these to be answered.  The only way to make private companies and Public Bodies, Authorities or Agencies is to make the requirement mandatory.  Wasn’t there something of a metaphoric st**k kicked up when politicians fiddled their expenses, we let them sort it out?  Did they?  Do we still let the provarication continue?

Why the secrecy? I suspect because the answers might give water companies and civil servants anything but a quiet life. Daylight will be the best disinfectant of our rivers and coasts, and if Defra or the water companies are even contemplating appealing against last week’s tribunal decision they should hang their heads in shame?

A sceptic might be forgiven for mentioning the likelihood of an appeal?  The implications for water companies makes it likely?  Is this another one of those irritating cases where the ‘green blobs’ and Europe get together to ensure that people can enjoy the rivers, whether their water supplies come from them, they wild swim in them or they simply provide quality habitat for a range of wildlife?

Greenblobpride

Well done to all involved in this challenge, a critical mass of ‘community’ collaboration funding legal action to benefit all …. well perhaps not utility company share holders?  Will that mean an increase in water bills here in Yorkshire?

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