Thank you for contacting me about the health of our rivers.
My Ministerial colleagues and I truly understand the importance of this issue, and the Government are using a range of approaches to tackle the many pressures the water environment faces.
I am pleased to tell you that funding for the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme has now been almost doubled. This means that it will cover 100 per cent of England’s farmland, up from 40 per cent of its current coverage, with every farmer able to obtain advice and support by March 2023 to help them access a range of solutions to reduce pollution. Catchment Sensitive Farming has been hugely successful in tackling water pollution, giving farmers practical advice tailored to their own land and grants to support the investment in infrastructure that protects watercourses. I believe that farmers have an important role to play in helping to protect our environment which is demonstrated by the success of Catchment Sensitive Farming so far; in recent years it has reduced the number of serious water pollution incidents by almost a fifth, and helped farmers access £100 million in grants.
It is also welcome that this programme sits alongside the other steps the Government is taking to tackle water pollution, including the setting of at least one new, legally binding target on water quality through the Environment Bill. This Bill, which I fully support, will also provide new measures to reduce the use of storm overflows. Furthermore, water companies across the country are investing £144 million of new, additional funding on storm overflows within the current 5-year planning period (2020– 2025), and water company investment in environmental improvements has also been scaled up to £7.1 billion over the same period.
I know that when things go wrong, the Environment Agency can use a range of enforcement options from warning letters to prosecutions. Most recently, Southern Water were fined a record £90 million, the largest ever imposed on a water company, after pleading guilty to thousands of illegal discharges of sewage into rivers and coastal waters. I would like to assure you that the Environment Agency will continue to take enforcement action against water companies which cause serious harm to our environment whenever it is necessary.
There is a lot of work to do in order to meet the goals for clean and plentiful water, but I am pleased that the Government will continue to take considered, focused and informed action to drive real progress on this important issue.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Sally-Ann Hart MP