Water Industry News

Record £90 Million Fine For Southern Water Over Pollution

Utility company Southern Water has been fined a record £90 million after it was discovered that the firm had deliberately discharged between 16 billion and 21 billion litres of raw sewage into protected marine environments over numerous years for its own financial gain.


According to the Guardian, the investigation into the matter was the biggest ever undertaken by the Environment Agency, uncovering “widespread criminality” over a period of almost six years – criminality that was known about at the very top level of the company.


Mr Justice Jeremy Johnson observed that the offences carried out displayed a “shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment”, as well as delicate coastlines and ecosystems, human health, fisheries and other businesses operating in coastal waters.


He went on to say that the supplier had a history of criminal activity, with persistent environmental pollution. And, although it had 168 prior offences and cautions, these had been ignored and the company had failed to change its behaviour.


Over the course of six years or so, Southern Water deliberately discharged volumes of untreated sewage into Kent and Hampshire seas, in an attempt to avoid financial penalties and having to shell out for upgrades to and maintenance of infrastructure.


In 2019, the company’s operating profits were £213 million, with Canterbury Crown Court hearing that it hid its actions by “very significant under-reporting” of the number of illegal pollution incidents it had made.


The Environment Agency investigation found that, between January 2019 and December 2015, Southern Water ran its treatment works at less than proper capacity on purpose. It stored millions of litres of untreated sewage in storm tanks and then released it into the sea, sometimes in discharges that lasted for weeks at a time.


Environment minister Rebecca Pow commented, saying: “This fine, the largest ever imposed on a water company, is absolutely appropriate and welcomed. It will rightly be paid solely from the company’s operating profits, rather than customer bills.”


In a statement, Southern Water’s chief executive Ian McAulay said he was “deeply sorry” for the historic incidents that resulted in the sentencing and fine. He went on to say that, after he joined the company in 2017, the way Southern Water operates has changed and his expectation is that the company is fully transparent, operating in the right way.


The statement went on to note the supplier has implemented a pollution incident reduction plan, invested over £32 million to improve bathing waters in the last five years and is running a Catchment First programme that aims to investigate potential pollutants that could compromise the sustainability of drinking water supplies.


Mr McAuley continued, saying: “We continue to transform across the areas of risk and compliance, measurement and self-reporting. We have made much progress and are continuing to invest to protect the environment and deliver our services safely and at a fair price for our customers.


“Today’s fine will not impact customers’ bills and investment in our transformation will not be reduced. Our shareholders are bearing the cost of the fine.”


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