Legal Case Against Ofwat Launched Over Raw Sewage Discharge
Water industry regulator Ofwat has had legal proceedings launched against it by an environmental campaigning group that says it has unlawfully failed to prevent water companies across England and Wales from discharging raw sewage into waterways.
According to the Guardian, Wild Justice is now seeking a judicial review of the industry organisation’s failure to monitor discharges and to take enforcement action as and when required.
The case being brought used environmental information requests and freedom of information laws to reveal that no active steps are taken by Ofwat to monitor and force its legal obligations to reduce and prevent discharges.
Environment Agency data shows that raw sewage was discharged into rivers 375,000 times in 2021, taking place over more than 2.7 million hours throughout the year.
Just 14 per cent of English rivers are currently in good biological health, with no improvements seen since 2016, despite the fact that the government pledged to see 75 per cent of rivers rated as good by 2027.
Director of Wild Justice Dr Ruth Tingay explained in documents filed to the high court that one of the biggest concerns is that if this lack of action continues, a collapse in biodiversity will be seen in rivers and coastal waters alike, which will then have an impact on local areas surrounding the waterways.
It was further noted that this failure to act has serious consequences for rivers, lakes and streams that are affected by sewage plants that don’t conform to urban wastewater treatment regulations. These consequences include excessive nutrient levels that damage river health and biodiversity – as well as potentially affecting human health, as well.
Representing Wild Justice, Carol Day of Leigh Day solicitors explained: “Our client is bringing this case because it wants action to be taken to protect our waterways.
“Wild Justice is of the view that had Ofwat fulfilled its statutory duty to ensure sewage treatments works are fit for purpose in the 21st century, the widespread and damaging discharge of untreated sewage into our rivers and seas could have been averted.”
Ofwat itself is legally responsible for ensuring that water companies deliver environmental improvements that customers pay for in their water and sewage bills. Action can be taken if companies fail to deliver such improvements.
In November last year, the organisation – alongside the Environment Agency – announced investigations into all water and wastewater companies across England and Wales, after it emerged that some suppliers were not treating as much sewage as they should be, which could be leading to discharges into the environment at times when this shouldn’t be happening.
As of March 2022, enforcement cases had been opened into five suppliers – Anglian Water, Thames Water, Northumbrian Water, Yorkshire Water and Essex Water. However, all companies are still subject to ongoing investigations as Ofwat continues to review the information it has collated.
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