‘Consistently unacceptable’: EA reveals water companies falling short of environmental commitments

Processed Water, Waste & Resources, Water Resources

The Environment Agency’s latest annual report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies has revealed that the performance of Southern Water and South West Water has been ‘consistently unacceptable’ in relation to serious pollution incidents.

While acknowledging that over half of serious incidents were also due to Anglian Water and Thames Water, and that these serious incidents overall declined for the second year in a row to the lowest number ever, the EA argued that Southern Water (for the 2nd year in a row) and South West Water (for the 10th year in a row) both performed significantly below target for this metric.

The news comes just days after Southern Water was fined a record £90m by the EA for illegal discharges of sewage.

Under the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA), which rates each company in England from 1 star to 4 star, both the above companies were given a 2 star rating (requiring improvement).

Other ratings were as follows:

• Anglian Water and Thames Water were rated as 3 star (good)
• Five companies (Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water, United Utilities, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water) achieved 4 stars. However, the EA acknowledged that certain improvements are still required.

Further details from the report revealed that over the five years from 2015 to 2020 Severn Trent Water, United Utilities and Wessex Water – which recently joined the UN-backed Race to Zero – sustained the highest level of performance.

However, over this same period the report also outlined that no single company had achieved all expectations and this included:

• The incidence of self-reporting being at 75 per cent minimum
• Reduction of total pollution incidents by at least one-third compared with 2012

Commenting Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“This report which spans the last 12 months makes for extremely disappointing reading. Even the industry-leading water companies have more work to do, especially on the use of storm overflows.

“Getting the basics right is critical for water companies and then they need to go further in playing their part in achieving a higher level of ambition for our precious water environment. On these grounds I will not hesitate to set higher expectations for both water companies and regulators to ensure a level of service that the people of this country and the environment deserve.”

Following the report findings Minister Pow will be meeting with both Southern Water and South West Water in the coming months, while Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd has already met all water company chairs.

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