On 22 June 2022, Ofwat published a summary of British Water company’s commitments to reducing the harm their operations have on local rivers.
British water companies regularly and deliberately dump sewage into rivers. The Environmental Agency allows water companies to do this in exceptional circumstances to avoid sewage backing up into homes.
Unfortunately, the exception has become the norm, with over 400,000 instances of dumping sewage into rivers in 2020. This is one of the reasons that the World Wide Fund for Nature recently concluded that not a single river in the UK is safe for swimmers.
Ofwat, the water industry regulator, is taking a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to getting water companies to behave better.
In March 2022, they opened an enforcement case against five of the worst offenders, Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water. They also asked each water company to develop its own plan and targets to reduce river spills by 2025.
Ofwat has praised most water companies for agreeing and publishing specific commitments for 2025. The disclosure is notable for three English water companies not making any particular commitment to reducing overflow spills by 2025: Southern Water, Thames Water and Yorkshire Water.