Wastewater companies have set out how they are going to cut the harm they cause to rivers, following calls from the regulator and concerns from the public and Ofwat has responded by posting a statement welcoming the immediate commitments to tackle these issues alongside areas for improvement.
Ofwat is pleased to see some companies have committed to make immediate progress on this issue, with Anglian Water, Severn Trent, South West Water and Northumbrian Water all committing to reduce their storm overflow spills to an average of 20 per year by 2025. However, there are also companies that have shown limited ambition to act before 2025 beyond pre-existing plans set three years ago. It is also important for all companies to make their plans public and accessible, to increase trust with the public on river health.
David Black, Ofwat CEO, says: “Wastewater companies know that the current situation regarding pollution in rivers is unacceptable and has to change. I am pleased to see the firm commitments to take action within some of the plans, which sets the pace for others to follow. These commitments need to be turned to actions which can and must start now.
“Companies that are lagging behind need to catch up with the leading companies. Where companies are failing to meet their legal obligations, we will not hesitate to take action. All wastewater companies are still subject to our ongoing investigation on how they manage their sewage treatment works.”
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Through our Environment Act, we are the first government to instruct water companies to reduce the harm caused by storm overflows. Water companies have been allowed to get away with it for too long, and they must step up.
“We will be monitoring the progress of water companies, and where they do not deliver we will not hesitate to take further robust action.”
All wastewater companies are still being scrutinised as part of the investigations by Ofwat and the Environment Agency into sewage treatment works. The commitments made by leading companies are expected to help to set performance benchmarks on storm overflows at PR24, and companies that fail to act now to reduce overflows may well face more challenging improvement targets at PR24.
As part of PR24, Ofwat will also consider how to incentivise and enable companies to further reduce harm caused by overflows to achieve targets set by Defra in its Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan, along with their new storm overflow duties introduced by the Environment Act 2021, once in force.