Treated and untreated sewage is released into inland waters and the sea. This is permitted in specified circumstances and is regulated by the Environment Agency (EA), the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) and by statute. There has been increasing concern about the level of sewage pollution in England’s waters. In 2021 Water companies discharged raw sewage into English rivers 372,533 times in 2021, a slight reduction on 2020. The water companies covering England released untreated sewage for a combined total of more than 2.7m hours; compared with 3.1m hours in 2020, according to data released by the EA.

According to Labour’s analysis of data from the Environment Agency, water companies spent 9,427,355 hours discharging sewage between 2016 and 2021 into the sea and rivers across the UK. That figure is an increase of 2,553 per cent over five years. In 2016, the Environment Agency recorded 100,533 hours’ worth of spills. By 2021, that figure had rocketed to 2,667,452. The Labour Party, which obtained the data under Freedom of Information laws, has warned that the full scale of pollution could be much worse.

In August 2022 the government said its Strategic Policy Statement, laid in Parliament in February, ’sets out to Ofwat – the water regulator – our expectations for the sector over the next five year spending cycle and beyond. It makes clear that Ofwat and water companies should prioritise action on the environment, deliver a resilient and sustainable water supply, and significantly reduce the frequency and volume of discharges from storm overflows.’

A Guardian newspaper article noted ‘Until Brexit the UK government was signed up to the water framework directive, which required countries to make sure all their waters achieved “good” chemical and ecological status by 2027 at the latest. The UK government later reduced the target to 75% of waterways reaching the single test of good ecological status by 2027 at the latest. The target for the majority of waterways to achieve good status in both chemical and ecological tests has now been pushed back to 2063, according to the documents.’   See more of this article at

You can track Thames Water’s discharge into our rivers of untreated sewage using this interactive map.