Water bills could rise to fix sewage crisis

People across Merseyside could see their water bills rise by more than £100 over the next five years.

In a bid to improve water infrastructure and reducing sewage spills, rates could be increased by around £22 a year as United Utilities invests heavily in the North West. Billions of pounds are being pumped into upgrading the water network, with £251m earmarked specifically for Merseyside.

The water company however said the investment would be the equivalent of £4,000 per household and half a billion of extra support will be provided for those struggling to pay their bills. This support will double by 2030 with 86,000 people given relief.

United Utilities said money from shareholders and bank loans will be used to help kick start the investment which will then be repaid by customers of the lifetime of the new infrastructure.

£166m will go towards reducing spills from 20 storm overflows and improving 26km of rivers.  According to United Utilities, it has already reduced spill frequency by 40 per cent since 2020.

£85m will also go towards improving Merseyside’s coastline including shellfish and bathing waters. 1,500 jobs will also be provided through the investment.

Data from United Utilities outflow pipes show sewage was pumped into the River Mersey for nearly 25,000 hours in 2022, the equivalent of nearly three years or 15 spills a day.

Taking into account all of the tributaries feeding into the river, this comes to more than 100,000 hours in total in 2022 according to the Rivers Trust. This is the equivalent of nearly 11 and a half years of sewage discharge in just 12 months.

United Utilities has said sewage discharges are to stop sewage backing up into people’s houses when there’s heavy rainfall. This is because some sewers combine sewage and rainwater rather than keeping them separate and more than half in the North West are combined.

United Utilities CEO Louise Beardmore said, “We’ve been listening to customers and communities right across our region to understand what really matters. What’s clear is that we need to improve services for customers and the environment.

“That’s why we are proposing the largest investment in water and wastewater infrastructure in over 100 years. It’s a hugely ambitious plan, and we’ve engaged with 95,000 people across our five great counties of Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, to make sure we get it right, shaping our plans for each county to address the things that they’ve told us matter most.

“Our plan will secure water supplies for the future, halving the need for hosepipe bans, reduce storm overflow spills into our rivers and seas and upgrade our water network to cut leakage and service interruptions for customers.”

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram committed in 2021 to make the River Mersey discharge free by 2030. A Liverpool City Region Combined Authority spokesperson previously said: “Despite the progress that has been made, it is clear that there is still a significant amount of work to do. Last year, the Mersey was ranked the 15th most polluted river in the country – a statistic which is simply unacceptable.

“The health of the River Mersey is vital for Mayor Rotheram’s future plans for the city region. Mersey Tidal Power has the potential to power up to 1m homes for 120 years, generating predictable, renewable energy. The success of this project will heavily rely on the region’s success to protect one of our most precious natural resources from untreated discharges.”

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