Within the United Kingdom, there are nine water and sewerage companies that operate wholly or mainly in England, providing clean (drinking) water and waste water (sewerage) services. It should be noted that there are an additional 10 water-only companies providing only drinking water, and a number of small ‘inset’ companies providing drinking and sewerage services on a localised basis, which are not covered by this report.
As the environmental regulator, the Environment Agency works with these water companies to minimise the impact that their assets and activities have on the environment through agreed investment in environmental controls through the Assets Management Programme – Environmental Programme in conjunction with Ofwat (the UK economic regulator for the water sector), environmental permitting, controls of the spread of sewerage on agricultural land & the management of environmental pollution incidents.
The Environment Agency monitors their environmental performance throughout the year against important objectives including reducing pollution incidents, complying with permits and delivering environmental improvement schemes and publish an annual assessment of their performance.
The water and sewerage companies covered in the performance report are:
Severn Trent Water
South West Water
The reported year is 2016, so it does not report on significant pollution incidents, such as Southern Water fined record £2m for sewage leak on Kent beaches & Thames Water ordered to pay record £20 million for river pollution as these incidents occurred in 2012 and 2013-2014 respectively and highlight the length of time that it takes for the Environment Agency to gain a successful prosecution for such pollution incidents.
Indeed, the report notes “In 2016, we saw the highest level of fines following prosecution, at just over £6.5 million, and we also saw a rise in the number of prosecutions.”
Overall, there was a slight reduction in the number of serious pollution incidents (Category 2 and 3) but an increase in the most serious, Category 1, incidents as defined by the Environment Agency’s the Common Incident Classification Scheme (CICS).
On a positive side, two companies, United Utilities and Wessex Water, achieved 4 star leading company status and this is an opportunity to celebrate their success.
Other highlights from the report are:
- A slight reduction in the number of serious pollution incidents to 57 compared to 59 in 2015, 61 in 2014 and 88 in 2013
- A rise in the most serious (category 1) pollution incidents to 9, all associated with sewerage, after 2 record low years when there were only 4 per year
- An increase in the total number of pollution incidents (category 1 to 3) at 1902 compared to 1742 in 2015, a disappointing first rise in incidents since 2012
- The highest ever level of self-reporting of pollution incidents at 72% (69% in 2015) showing better asset management and enabling quicker action to reduce pollution
- Compliance with environmental permits at sewage treatment and water treatment works remains very good at 98.6% compared to 98.7% in 2015
- Sludge use and disposal in 2016 was good overall, one company reported 99.97%, all other companies reported 100%
- All 9 companies reported good performance, with 100% delivery of planned environmental improvement schemes for the financial year to March 2017
- For 2016 to 2017, 8 of the 9 companies reported a score of 100 for the Security of Supply Index for water availability and green status in the EPA, with one company reporting red status.