Ofwat is consulting on proposals to accelerate £1.6 billion of water company investment in projects to improve infrastructure.
The water regulator wants to approve 31 schemes in England that will be brought forward from the latter part of the decade to begin in 2023 or 2024.
Seven water companies have proposed 10 schemes at a collective £1.1 billion to improve 250 storm overflows and reduce the frequency of sewage spills by around 10,000 a year.
Most of that investment – £800 million – will come from United Utilities, which aims to reduce 8,400 spills annually, including those into Lake Windermere.
Anglian Water, South West Water and United Utilities have also proposed schemes to reduce nutrient pollution with £160 million, though these are dependent on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill receiving Royal Assent.
All work will start in the next two years, between 2023 and 2025.
Water minister Rebecca Pow said: “These new schemes will help accelerate the delivery of the urgent improvements we need to protect our environment.
“It includes £1.1 billion of new investment to stop sewage discharges at sites across the country and will deliver a reduction of 10,000 discharges per year in places like Lake Windermere, the River Wharfe, Falmouth and Sidmouth.
“It builds on the key commitments in our five-year strategy – our Environmental Improvement Plan – as well as our upcoming Plan for Water to tackle pollution, reduce water consumption and protect our waters.”
All English water companies except SES Water submitted proposals though not all met Ofwat’s assessment criteria, such as Thames Water, which failed to meet the criteria for any of its proposals.
Ofwat said it had identified a further 37 schemes totalling £1.5 billion that could progress in 2024 if companies can address its concerns.
It is running a consultation and said it will welcome any comments until midday on April 24.
A Water UK spokesperson said: “Water companies are taking comprehensive action to improve the nation’s rivers and now, with this approval by Ofwat, we will be able to accelerate our efforts further.
“Today’s announcement recognises the need to move faster. It represents a down payment on what will be one of the largest infrastructure programmes ever to improve our waterways and help protect against climate change.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had asked English water companies to accelerate investments between now and 2025.
A Plan for Water will be published on Tuesday, the department said, which will set out how it intends to achieve cleaner and more plentiful water for future generations.
Ofwat chief executive David Black said: “Substantial investment is needed to address the challenges to our water system of storm overflows, river and bathing water quality and drought resilience.
“We are pleased that we’ve been able to work with companies and identify significant investments which companies can start well before the next price control period.
“This will bring substantial benefits for customers and the environment and bring them faster. We want to see companies making more rapid progress in delivering improvements, and will hold them to account if they fall short.”
“We saw during last year’s drought that many people struggled to understand their water use and that’s where the rollout of smart meters can provide households with the information they need.”
“Pollution from storm overflows has already seriously damaged the way people view the sector but we need more than just immediate investment.
“There needs to be sustained action to put people and the environment first, including providing fairer and more consistent support for customers struggling to afford their water bill.”