Water Industry News

Water Supplier Environmental Performance Hits All-Time Low

The Environment Agency’s annual report on the environmental performance of water and sewerage companies in England has just been released… and it makes for very damning reading, indeed.


It seems that overall in 2021, 9 water and sewerage wholesalers in the country saw their performance fall to the lowest level seen under the Environmental Performance Assessment.


Measured against a four-star rating, the majority of the companies had a dip in performance, despite the fact that law breaches have led to enforcement action, with court penalties proving to be a poor deterrence.


As such, the Environment Agency is now calling for courts to impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate instances of pollution, with current fines often less than the salary of a chief executive.


In addition, the agency would like to see prison sentences handed down to chief executives and board members whose firms are responsible for the most serious cases. Company directors could also be struck off so they cannot progress professionally after allowing illegal environmental damage.


In this latest report, it was found that South West Water and Southern Water both received a one star rating, while four firms were only rated two stars… which means they need significant improvements.


Meanwhile, United Utilities, Severn Trent and Northumbrian Water all succeeded in maintaining four stars. However, even in these cases, certain improvements are still required.


It was also found that seven water firms had a rise in serious incidents since 2020, with 62 serious incidents for 2021 as a whole… the highest it’s been since 2013.


Commenting on the findings, Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “It’s appalling that water companies’ performance on pollution has hit a new low.


“Water quality won’t improve until water companies get a grip on their operational performance. For years people have seen executives and investors handsomely rewarded while the environment pays the price.


“Company directors let this happen. We plan to make it too painful for them to continue like this. The amount a company can be fined for environmental crimes is unlimited but fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a chief executive’s salary.”


At the start of 2022, the Environmental Audit Committee issued a report indicating that the poor quality of English rivers is down to chronic underinvestment and multiple failures in monitoring, governance and enforcement.


It was found that just 14 per cent of rivers in England currently meet good ecological status, with pollution from sewage, agriculture roads and single-use plastic all creating a cocktail of chemicals that is now making its way through the nation’s waterways.


Part of the problem is how wastewater from sewage treatment works and sewer overflows is affecting rivers, lakes and streams, with the study showing that this is stopping 36 per cent of water bodies from gaining good ecological status.


Most alarmingly, perhaps, citizen science analysis of water company data indicates that the actual number of sewer discharges may be far higher than those reported by water suppliers to the Environment Agency.


Do you want to take action to protect the nation’s waterways? Get in touch with the Switch Water Supplier team today to find out who supplies your water and how you can go about changing this