Environment Agency slams water companies’ environmental performance

The Environment Agency has urged water companies to clean up their act after a new report described their efforts to protect the environment as ‘simply unacceptable’.

In its annual report published yesterday (10 July), the Environment Agency found that only one of England’s nine major water and sewage companies was performing at the highest environmental standard, as overall performance by companies deteriorated and serious pollution incidents increased in 2018.

The agency warned water companies that it will work with the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) to potentially introduce higher financial penalties for companies who do not fulfil their environmental duties.

Dr Toby Willison, the Environment Agency’s executive director of operation, said: ‘People expect water companies to improve the environment, not pollute rivers and ensure secure supplies of water.

‘With only one exception, none of the companies are performing at the level we wish to see, the country expects and the environment needs. We will continue to challenge CEOs to improve company performance and we will take strong and appropriate enforcement action.’

The Environment Agency’s annual report evaluates each of England’s 9 water and sewage companies on various measures including serious pollution, supply resilience, self-reporting of pollution and complying with permits, also comparing the companies’ performance.

The agency applauded Northumbrian Water, which was the only company to receive the highest 4 star rating under its Environmental Performance Assessment.

Five companies including United Utilities and Thames Water were given three stars, while Southern Water, South West Water and Yorkshire Water were given two stars after showing an ‘unacceptable’ level of environmental performance.

The agency highlighted the continuous poor performance of South West Water which was given a red rating for pollution incidents.

Overall, there was no improvement in the total number of pollution incidents in 2018, although the agency noted a small drop in sewerage incidents.

Southern Water and Thames Water were also criticised for failing to demonstrate clean plans to secure water supplies.

Last month, Southern Water was fined £126m in penalties and payments to customers for failing to operate a number of its wastewater treatment works properly and deliberately misreporting its performance.

The agency has asked water companies underachieving in their environmental performance to look to the standards being set by Northumbrian Water, which drew praise for its focus at board level and the efforts being made by its operational teams.

‘Companies performing well have a positive ripple effect on the natural environment and communities in their regions,’ Dr Willison added.

‘We want all water companies to meet the expectation of their customers, the needs of environment and learn from the best practice that the leading company is demonstrating.’

The UK’s water and sewerage sector serves around 53.5 million people across the country and abstracts around 11,500 megalitres of water every day.

Photo Credit – Ian Roberts


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