The Environment Agency has downgraded the majority of water companies’ environmental performance ratings in its annual Environmental Performance Assessment, published today.
Whilst three companies – United Utilities, Northumbrian and Severn Trent Water - have maintained their 4 star rating from 2020, the report shows that the other six water companies in England had their environmental performance assessment downgraded from the previous year - this is even taking a new methodology into account. The two worst performers, Southern Water and South West Water, sunk from a 2 star rating to a paltry 1 star.
The regulators Ofwat and the Environment Agency (EA) are currently investigating non-compliance by water companies, including at over 2000 sewage works around the country. On top of that, the EA, Ofwat, and DEFRA are themselves are being investigated by the new Office for Environmental Protection for potentially failing to regulate sewage releases from Combined Sewer Overflows. It is clear that all is not well with our water industry and its regulation, and this has lasting, grave implications for the health of our rivers.
Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, commented: “You have to wonder if these lower ratings actually reflect a recent increase in scrutiny after years of regulators turning a blind eye. I raised concerns when operator self-monitoring – i.e. allowing water companies to mark their own homework – was introduced 15 years ago, and those concerns were clearly justified.
“Clearly, the current regulatory system is not working properly, and something has to change. The increased severity of punishment is welcomed, but we also want to see the money from water company fines invested in holistic, nature-based solutions which will actually benefit the environment, rather than disappearing into the Treasury. This is one of the reasons why we at The Rivers Trust are determined to work with the entire sector, including the regulators, to address the issues meaningfully and deliver real change.”
Christine Colvin, Advocacy Director of The Rivers Trust, said: “The results showing that 6 out of 9 water companies have unacceptable environmental performance are devastating and this needs to change much faster than we are seeing at the moment. We hope that the new tone of the commentary from the EA will have just that effect. The EA is now not only condemning this shocking performance and demanding that polluters pay, with hefty fines that make a material difference, but the threat of criminal prosecution of CEOs and board members is a potential game-changer. This serious consequence is what we have been calling for, and we hope that we are seeing government finally responding with tougher regulation. The public is sick of sewage in our rivers and we all want an end sewage pollution. We hope that intolerance of river pollution will become the norm, plus drive an urgent shift in the behaviour of water companies.”