Pollution Performance of Water and Sewerage Companies Reaches New Low

The Environment Agency asks today:

  • Courts to impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents. Fines currently imposed by the courts are often less than a CEO’s salary.
  • Prison sentences for CEOs and Directors whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents and directors of companies dismissed so that they cannot continue with their careers after illegal environmental damage.

The Environment Agency today (July 14) published its annual report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage utilities.

The report shows that, overall, in 2021, the performance of companies fell to the lowest level we have seen in the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA). Compared to our 4-star rating, the performance of most companies decreased. Despite ongoing enforcement actions against those who break environmental laws, water companies are not intimidated by the sanctions currently imposed by the courts.

Southern Water and South West Water received only a 1 star rating, while 4 utilities received only 2 stars, meaning they require significant improvement.

Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and United Utilities performed more positively and maintained 4 stars.

Since 2011 we have used the EPA, which rates every company in England from 1 star to 4 stars, for their performance on environmental commitments such as pollution incidents and treatment work compliance.

Following a regular 5-year review of the EPA process, the Environment Agency has deliberately adjusted its metrics to set challenging targets that will drive companies to meet regulatory requirements and our expectations. Most companies not only failed to meet these new higher standards, but most of them saw their performance deteriorate compared to the previous standards.

The latest EPA programs:

  • The performance of the sector in terms of pollution was much worse than in previous years.
  • Southern Water and South West Water received a 1-star rating.
  • Three companies (Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and United Utilities) maintained 4 stars, although some improvements are still required.
  • Seven water companies had an increase in serious incidents compared to 2020. In total there were 62 serious incidents for 2021, the highest since 2013.
  • There has also been no general improvement over several years in the total number of incidents or compliance with the conditions for the discharge of treated wastewater.

Environment Agency President Emma Howard Boyd has met with the presidents of the water companies over the past week.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said:

It is appalling that the water companies’ pollution performance has hit a new low. Water quality will not improve until water companies monitor their operational performance. For years, people have seen executives and investors handsomely rewarded while the environment pays the price.

The directors of the company allowed this to happen. We plan to make it too painful for them to continue like this. The amount of fine that can be imposed on a company for environmental offenses is unlimited, but fines currently imposed by the courts are often less than a CEO’s salary. We need the courts to impose much higher fines. Investors should no longer see England’s water monopolies as a one-way bet.

In response to its annual report to the EPA, the Environment Agency today asks:

  • The courts will impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents: Although the amount of fine a company can receive for environmental crimes is unlimited, the fines currently imposed by the courts often amount to less than the salary of a CEO .
  • Prison sentences for CEOs and Directors whose companies are responsible for the most serious events
  • The directors of the company were fired so that they cannot simply continue with their careers after the illegal environmental damage

A Defra spokesperson said:

This report shows that water companies are ignoring their legal responsibilities. The bosses of the water companies cannot continue to make huge profits while polluting our waters.

We will not tolerate this behavior and will take strong action if we do not see urgent improvements. We are the first government to set our expectation that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm surges, and earlier this year we consulted on a comprehensive plan to address the adverse impact of storm surge discharges. the storms.

Since 2015, Environment Agency prosecutions against water companies have resulted in fines of more than £138 million. In 2021, the Environment Agency concluded seven cases against water and sewage companies with fines of £90 million, two of £4 million, £2.3 million, £1.5 million, £150,000 and £540,000. Five prosecutions have already concluded in 2022 with fines of £300,000, £240,000, £233,000, £50,000 and £18,000, and more prosecutions are progressing through the courts.

Working with Ofwat and Defra, we have set clear expectations through the Water Industry Strategic Environmental Requirements (WISER) for 2020-2025 that we expect water and sewerage companies to meet. Ofwat’s PR24 methodology is currently available for consultation and we will respond in due course to help shape it and ensure it meets current challenges.

Other actions being taken by Defra and the Environment Agency include:

  • Increased inspections of wastewater treatment works
  • New requirements through the Environment Law for companies to place monitors in all their storm overflows, both in the network and in the sewage treatment plants, and make the data public
  • Conducting the largest environmental crime investigation ever conducted in the country, our investigation of all water companies into potential non-compliance with flow to full treatment (FFT) at wastewater treatment works. This involves all water companies, and we are looking at whether they have knowingly and willfully broken the law in relation to wastewater treatment and discharge.
  • Strengthen our regulation: put greater emphasis on the root causes of non-compliance and pollution incidents and ensure that our company action plans are specific and effective.


Notes to editors:

  • On November 18, 2021, the Environment Agency (EA) and Ofwat announced major investigations into possible widespread non-compliance by water and sewage companies in wastewater treatment works.
  • The investigations were launched after the companies disclosed to us that they might be in breach of their permit conditions. This issue came to light after the EA required companies to improve the way they monitor and manage flow to full treatment at wastewater treatment plants by installing new monitors.
  • As the investigation progresses, the EA, the government and Ofwat are working closely together to ensure that water and sewerage companies take immediate action when potential breaches of permit conditions are identified. It is the responsibility of the water and sewer companies to bring their sites back into compliance as soon as possible and regulators will require them.

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