sewage spills

Number of ‘pollution incidents’ rises for first time in five years

sewage spills
The Environment Agency picked out South West Water as having the highest number of sewage spills and needing to make improvements to environmental performance. Photograph: David TW Gee/Alamy

A study by the Environment Agency found that number of pollution incidents rose by 160 to 1,902 in 2016

July 12, 2017 — The number of “pollution incidents” such as sewage spills reported by UK water companies has risen for the first time in five years, according to a new report.

The study by the Environment Agency (EA) found that although the majority of the UK’s water companies came close to or exceeded their targets to improve water quality, the number of pollution incidents rose by 160 to 1,902 in 2016. There was also a small increase in the most serious sewage spills.

The EA picked out South West Water as having the highest number of sewage spills and needing to make “significant improvements to their environmental performance”.

“They have not done enough to reduce pollution incidents and have repeatedly scored badly on this metric compared with other companies,” said a spokesman. “The Environment Agency has introduced special measures to monitor and challenge the company’s performance. These measures will remain in place until South West Water better protects the environment.”

South West Water said it had achieved its “best ever performance in a number of areas” but admitted there was “more to do”.

“We continue to invest and innovate – for example, through using cutting-edge technology to monitor our sewerage network and purchasing a fleet of fully-equipped rapid response vehicles to enable staff to undertake sewer cleansing, surveying and reporting in one visit. This will help our response times and management of pollution incidents as we seek to drive numbers down.”

Three water companies were given a two-star rating meaning “company requires improvement”. Five of the nine companies had an increase in pollution incidents between 2015 and 2016.

Water companies’ ability to reduce pollution has a big impact on the health of rivers and beaches. Experts say good environmental performance supports wildlife, ensures people can enjoy their surroundings, and brings huge economic benefit.

The EA, which is sponsored by the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, introduced tougher standards last year and it said water companies had made good progress in meeting the new targets.

Toby Willison, executive director of operations for the EA, said: “Water companies work hard to protect the environment. We have set more stringent targets and we are glad to see overall improvements but want to see more effort to avoid pollution incidents.”

He said that as a “fair and effective regulator” the EA was committed to highlighting best practice but also taking action to address poor practice.

“While we welcome the good progress being made we will continue to address any failings and will take enforcement action in the most serious cases.”

Wessex Water and United Utilities were the top performing water companies, according to the report.

Earlier this year Thames Water was hit with a record fine of £20.3m after huge leaks of untreated sewage into the Thames and its tributaries and on to land, including the popular Thames path.

guardian_64 by Matthew Taylor | The Guardian