Environment Agency: Water companies need to do more to protect the environment

A report recently published by the Environment Agency, has called upon water companies to do more to protect the environment. Although there has been a gradual improving trend in environmental performance over recent years, the industry is not doing enough to reduce serious pollution incidents and comply with permits. Last year saw a rise in the most serious pollution incidents, with ‘Category 1’ incidents at 11. Previous reductions in serious (Category 1 and 2) incidents have also plateaued continuing at around one incident per week.

The Water and Sewerage Companies’ Environmental Performance Report rates how well the big nine water and sewage companies (operating mainly or wholly in England) managed their impact on the environment in 2017. This is done across a wide range of measures – including pollution, managing sewage and complying with permits – and also compares individual company performance.

This is not to say that all major water companies are at fault. For the third year running United Utilities and Wessex Water claimed a top mark of four stars. As well as this, Severn Trent Water have joined these organisations with a four star rating , and have actually surpassed their competition by achieving the highest rate of discharge permit compliance (99.6%), a figure they have maintained for a number of years.

While the majority of companies delivered a ‘good’ or ‘leading’ performance, there are some poorer performers – the report reveals an urgent need by South West Water and Northumbrian Water to improve their performance which has seen them rated lowest this year. South West Water are the worst performer on pollution incidents and Northumbrian Water on permit compliance.

This comes in the face of record fines for the sector – in total more than £21 million were issued as a result of 16 successful prosecutions by the Environment Agency. This has been driven by changes in Sentencing Guidelines. Earlier in the year, Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, called for fines for the most serious pollution incidents to be proportionate to the turnover of water companies.

Despite some good performances, the report demands far greater progress in 2018 and subsequent years. The Environment Agency has recently set out a more ambitious programme of environmental improvements which water companies will have to make between 2020 and 2025 – totalling £5 billion of investment.