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Environment Agency says water pollution in England is shocking

  • Environment Agency says water pollution in England is shocking

The United Kingdom’s Environment Agency (EA) released an environmental performance assessment last Thursday that highlighted the performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies.

The report said: “The sector’s performance on pollution was shocking, much worse than previous years.”

The firms were given star ratings for their performance and most went down compared to the previous year. Four companies (Anglian, Thames, Wessex, Yorkshire Water) were rated only 2 stars, which means they require significant improvement. Two (Southern and South West Water) fell to 1 star, the bottom of our star ratings, meaning their performance was terrible across the board.

Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and United Utilities performed more positively and maintained four-star ratings.

The report found that serious pollution incidents increased to 62, the highest total since 2013.

There were 8 of the most serious incidents, compared with 3 in 2020 and most companies, 7 of the 9, were responsible for an increase in severe incidents compared to 2020.

The EA warned that criminal prosecutions can now be expected: “We would like to see prison sentences for Chief Executives and Board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents. 

“We would also like to see company directors being struck off so they cannot simply delete illegal environmental damage from their CV and move on to their next role.”

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a chief executive’s salary … Investors should no longer see England’s water monopolies as a one-way bet.”

“Water companies exist to serve the public. Their environmental performance is a breach of trust. The polluter must pay.”

Ranked EPA performance star ratings (out of 4) for the 9 water and sewerage companies 2021 to 2025

In October 2017, the EA set out the performance expectations for 2020 to 2025 

describing environmental, resilience and flood risk obligations. Water companies were required to take these into account when developing their business plans for the AMP7 period 2020 to 2025.

These are the following expectations of water companies that are directly relevant to the EPA:

  • trend to minimise all pollution incidents (category 1 to 3) by 2025 – there should be at least a 40% reduction compared to numbers of incidents recorded in 2016
  • serious pollution incidents must trend towards zero
  • a plan in place to achieve 100% compliance for all licences and permits and 100% compliance with all look-up table conditions (where a limit cannot be exceeded more than a specified number of times in a 12 month period)
  • high levels of self-reporting of pollution incidents with at least 80% of incidents self-reported by 2025 and more than 90% of incidents self-reported for just STWs and pumping stations (PS) combined
  • business plans include all measures identified within the WINEP and these are planned well and completed to agreed timescales and specification
  • assess resilience of their water supply system to predicted droughts and other non-drought water supply hazards
  • manage sewage sludge treatment and re-use so as not to cause pollution to land, surface water or groundwater

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