Independents lead a clean-up campaign

The proposal for action was put forward by Lincolnshire Independent, Cllr Marianne Overton MBE,  sparking a powerful debate at Lincolnshire County Council and unanimous agreement to tackle the issue head-on.

“Every day, our rivers, lakes and beaches are being poisoned with sewerage. It has got to stop. Local residents are concerned about human health and the impact on wildlife of regular wastewater discharge, including untreated sewerage, into our local rivers and seas.

This has worsened on our watch.

Like me, you may remember European legislation coming in, and a big clean-up of rivers, lakes and beaches. Remember the first salmon reappearing in the Thames? I do, and I was so heartened and proud to live in this country. That legislation was adopted into UK law.

Indeed, protection has been in British legislation since 1951. (Rivers and Pollution Act)
It is a serious offence to “cause or knowingly permit to enter a stream any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter”

So  it seems legislation is in place. The Environment Agency has issued £150m in fines since 2015.

Yet in total, water company executives have paid themselves nearly £27 million in bonuses over the past two years to 2021, all the while pumping sewage into waterways over 600 times a day, with 9,000 sewage warnings in bathing areas. In 2021, the water companies were responsible for over 300,000 spills, during which raw sewage and untreated wastewater was dumped into aquatic environments for a total of over 2.6m hours. Even those staggering figures are an underestimate, because over a quarter of storm overflows had no monitors, or monitors that were faulty.

The impact on people and wildlife is horrendous

Waterways choked with weed and fish are dying in large numbers. People warned not to swim in the sea, not to put your hands in the river, keeping children and pets away from lakes and reservoirs.  In places, we have poisoned the air we breathe and now we see we are poisoning the water we drink.

It was last week announced that 100,000 new homes were blocked because mitigation measures were needed to stop additional sewage entering the already polluted rivers.

Then the Government wanted to change the law, so that developers can carry on adding to the already dangerous levels of pollution. It took the House of Lords to stop that. Lets get the rivers clean first.

Then we find that the Watchdog, the Environment Agency, is regularly failing to check that the water companies are actually telling the truth about pollution and illegal dumping of sewage. Many audits have not been done.

The Government cut the Environment Agency funding significantly, by half over a decade.  In 2010, they allowed the privatised water companies to self report, with big financial incentives for under-reporting.

Audits from the Environment Agency are used by Ofwat to decide price review penalties and rewards. But in many cases, the Environment Agency has failed to carry out those audits, sometimes for many years.

Now we find that the laws to protect the rivers and beaches are in place. In not protecting our environment, laws may have been broken. The Office for the Environmental Protection suggest that the government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat may be failing to comply with environmental law.

I move that this council calls on our MP’s, water companies and the Environment Agency to take whatever action is necessary to stop raw sewage discharge at the earliest possible time.

We cannot leave it to Central Government. It is time for us in local Councils to take matters in hand. Let’s take a lead, get partners round the table and get our rivers clean once more, for us and for generations to come!


Motion put to Lincolnshire County Council to protect our local rivers and sea by taking into account the cumulative impact of sewage discharge.

This Council notes:

  • Local residents are deeply concerned about water quality and the impact of regular wastewater discharge, which includes untreated sewage, into our local rivers and seas and the impact on wildlife and on human health.
  • Anglian Water discharges sewage into local rivers and seas on a regular basis, not just an exceptional one after storms.

Water companies are writing their renewed long term plans now. It is the right time for us to assist them in getting it right.

That has an adverse impact on people and wildlife. The Environment Agency has overall responsibility, but need to be clearer on the impacts and require a pause in further damage.


That this Council calls on our MP’s, water companies and the Environment Agency to take whatever action in necessary to stop raw sewerage discharges in our area at the earliest possible time.

The Council asks for this matter to be referred to the Flood and Drainage Scrutiny Committee where this issue can be fully aired and actions available to this Council can be determined.”

Proposed by Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Seconded by Cllr Neil McElhinney Murray – Passed unanimously.

Some References

Why this motion and why now?

1. This week was a big announcement that the “UK’s environment watchdog suspects the government and water regulators have broken the law over how they regulate sewage releases. It follows continued high levels of sewage releases in England which topped 825 times a day last year. Campaigners and opposition MPs have called the regulators “complicit” in allowing the pollution.”

2 In April this year, a Motion in Parliament calling for action.

3. Michael Gove announced that 100,000 houses will continue to be built in polluted areas, which will add to the sewerage spills. Announced recently alongside developers in Norfolk. Money has been allocated to better protecting slurry escapes from animal farms. (£200m)


4. Rivers Trust Crappiest Map and State of our Rivers Report 146 dry spills, which are more concentrated and therefore more lethal in their impact.

5. Government Water and Sewerage Companies in England: environmental performance report 2022 showing worsening performance of over 2,000 (2,026) pollution incidents and their Plan for Water

Cllr Mrs Marianne Overton MBE