House builders urged to install rainwater toilets to stop river pollution

Developers must install rainwater toilets when building new homes to stop river pollution, campaigners have said.

Britain’s Victorian water system is already struggling to cope, with sewer systems frequently overflowing, making England’s rivers the dirtiest in Europe.

Now there are calls for tougher restrictions on developers, limiting their ability to connect new homes to sewers and requiring new homes to meet water efficiency standards.

Water companies can dump raw sewage in rivers and the sea when rainfall mixed with waste water from households overloads the system, something which is only supposed to happen on rare occasions but in practice happened 400,000 times last year.

Campaigners said measures such as reusing rainfall to flush toilets as standard, reducing the volume of water going into sewers, would stop the system becoming overloaded.

The system works by capturing rainwater and filtering it into a tank where it is kept at a suitable temperature to avoid bacteria. The water is then pumped through the plumbing system when a toilet is flushed.

By diverting rainwater from sewer systems into household plumbing, sewers become less overwhelmed, decreasing the likelihood of river pollution.

It comes as figures show not one of England’s rivers passes pollution tests, with wildlife and swimmers both harmed by sewage releases and agricultural runoff.

The calls, backed by countryside campaigners and water industry groups, also come ahead of the Government’s much-anticipated planning bill, which has faced criticism over plans to build thousands of homes in England’s already densely populated south.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Rivers Trust, called for water sustainability measures to become compulsory in new housing developments, particularly in the water-stressed south east of the country.

“If you’re going to do that kind of development, you have to make it absolutely brilliant for water efficiency and sustainability, both in terms of the water use of the properties, but also building in sustainable urban drainage systems as standard, and grey water recycling so that you’re capturing rainwater and using it to flush toilets or capturing the sink water and using that to flush the toilet," he said.

“We could take that leap, and the cost of them would come down enormously, and it would have huge benefits for the rest of society and for water bills, and the other costs that are heaped on society from pollution and restrictions on supply.”

Andrew Wood, spatial planning lead at CPRE, the countryside charity, said:  "The Government’s top-down approach to housing targets is wreaking havoc on water and sewerage systems.

"To place more pressure on an already stretched sewerage and drainage network is asking for trouble, especially in water-stressed areas of southern and eastern England.”

A spokesman for industry group Water UK said the Government should be “ending the practice of developers adding more and more connections into sewers, even when they are already close to being overloaded, and promoting natural drainage schemes that reduce torrents of storm water entering sewers”.

A Government spokesman said: "Drainage systems should be sustainable and we are reviewing options for ensuring sustainable drainage is incorporated in future developments.”

A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation said: "Drainage designs for new developments are agreed with local water companies and ensure minimal water is discharged into water courses and drainage systems, none into combined ones.”

"New homes are considerably more water and energy efficient than existing homes and will become more so in the coming years."

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