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Water companies failing to stop pollution with raw sewage still pouring into rivers and coastal waters
Water companies continue to fail to cut pollution from raw sewage spills into our rivers and coastal waters. According to the Environment Agency’s Water and sewerage companies in England: environmental performance report for 2020 released today (13th July), of the nine water and sewage companies covered by the report “no water company achieved all the environmental expectations set out for 2015 to 2020”.
The performance of water companies varied, ranging from those who have come near to meeting requirement over the last five years, or meeting some requirements some years, to those companies that have failed year on year to even come close to meeting requirements, with Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, saying, “…some companies are still failing in their duty to the environment and there remains a tendency to reach for excuses rather than grasp the nettle.”
The EA is trying hard to paint a more positive picture on the performance of water companies – something the Angling Trust challenges. While the EA points to a reduction in pollution incidents in 2020, compared to 2019, it admits the number of incidents were the second highest since 2015.
And while it claims the number of severe pollution incidents dropped in 2020, those incidents are still too high. The target set by the Environment Agency was for a reduction of 50% over the period, with a trend line of incident heading towards zero. The actual reduction achieved, according to the Agency’s own figures, is 27% and there is no downward trend line.
Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said:
“For another year, we have seen water companies continue to fail to protect our environment, and the Environment Agency continue to fail to hold them to account. Pollution incidents are still too high. Prosecutions too low. There is no point sweetening this pill – it is a mess.
“Companies are getting away with breaking the law and the system is broken. We need firm action from the government, they need to release the Environment Agency from the shackles they have placed them under and provide proper funding for them to do their job. We welcome the fine recently imposed on Southern Water for their criminal activities, alas, this fine is the exception not the rule. Too many times water companies are getting away with it.”
The Environment Agency claim in their report that serious pollution incidents (category one) have reduced for the second year in a row and are at their lowest level ever. This has to be set in the context of serious incident from all sources of pollution. Recent BBC analysis of EA data showed that 325 category one and two serious water pollution incidents were recorded in the year to March 2021, up 23% on the year to March 2020.
“Many anglers will find the claim that serious pollution incidents have declined goes against what they are seeing happening to our rivers. The EA has taken a very narrow analysis and tried to make it sound like progress. Too often I have spoken to anglers who have reported serious incidents, only to be told the EA simply didn’t show up, or if they did, failed to categorise it as a category one pollution.
“We need to see a complete change in approach from the government and the EA, we need to see stronger measures included in the long-delayed Environment Bill, we need to see firm action from the CSO task force, we need to see Ofwat being given clear guidance to bear down on water companies to prioritise tackling pollution and investing in improving the environment, and more broadly, we need to see actions and incentive for the agriculture sector, the biggest polluters of our rivers, to clean up their act.
“For Minster Pow to describe the finding of this report as ‘extremely disappointing’ is not good enough. This is happening on her watch, we need to see more action, more prosecutions, more penalties imposed. As the Minister says, “[Water companies] have a legal duty to avoid pollution to our rivers and other waterways.” We’re looking to the Minister to make sure they do.
“Anglers are frustrated that they willingly buy their rod licence, in effect a tax on their sport, to support improvements to their fisheries and the environment, only to see it undermined by water companies, EA and government complacency when it comes to tackling pollution.”