ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners are “disappointed” that MPs failed to back a campaign to put a legal duty on water companies to stop raw sewage from being poured into waterways in England.

They are pressing for water companies to pay to restore England’s coastlines after dumping sewage into rivers.

Last week, MPs voted by 268 to 204 to disagree with an amendment to the Environment Bill tabled in the Lords which sought to place a new duty on water companies to reduce raw sewage discharges into rivers and demonstrate reductions in the harm caused by the discharges.

Sewage can be pumped out of the sewage system and into rivers through combined sewer overflows – otherwise known as a storm overflow or release valve. The overflows are designed to release excess water following heavy rainfall or a storm to stop sewage backing up into homes.

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To stop this happening, water companies are allowed to release the rainwater, and a smaller amount of untreated sewage into the country’s waterways.

The Environment Agency has reported that in the last year, raw sewage was discharged into coastal waters and rivers in England more than 400,000 times, which Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) branded “unacceptable”.

Hugo Tagholm, the CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said water companies have not “got a right to destroy these spaces”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The amendment that is being called for is reasonable. We believe the water companies need to cut into dividends they make every year to restore our rivers and our coastlines.

“They haven’t got a right to destroy these spaces and need to take the ambitious steps to restore them and we need to make sure the industry is not putting their profits ahead of making our spaces safe.”

It has been reported that it would cost between £150 billion and £160bn to make waterways safer.

Defra says this work would include the complete separation of the sewerage systems which could lead to “potentially significant disruption for homes, businesses and infrastructure across the country”.

However, they have “made it clear to water companies that they must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority”.

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Surfers Against Sewage said in a blog post last week they will continue to rally, with Tagholm saying: “In this most important of environmental decades, it’s shocking that the Government recommended that MPs reject progressive and ambitious amendments that would protect water, air and nature.

“Why wouldn’t they want water companies to have a legal obligation not to pollute our rivers and ocean with sewage? It beggars belief and hardly shows a commitment to be the greenest Government ever. It’s time for more ambitious thinking and law that builds protected nature back into public ownership rather than leaving it to the ravages of shareholder interests.”

The Bill will go back before peers for scrutiny after the amendment was voted down.