The Environment Agency warns that despite a gradual improving trend in environmental performance over recent years, the industry is not doing enough to reduce serious pollution incidents and comply with permits.
Last year saw a rise in the most serious pollution incidents, with ‘Category 1’ incidents at 11, it adds, while previous reductions in serious (Category 1 and 2) incidents have also plateaued continuing at around one incident per week.
The Water and Sewage Companies’ Environmental Performance Report has now called for far greater progress in 2018 and subsequent years.
It rated how well the big nine water and sewage companies (operating mainly or wholly in England) managed their impact on the environment in 2017, with the majority (seven out of nine) delivering ‘Good’ or ‘Leading’ performance.
This was based on several measures, including pollution, managing sewage and complying with permits, as well as comparing individual company performance.
Toby Willison, executive director of operations for the Environment Agency, said: “The leading companies in this report show that reducing their environmental impact can be done, so we look to companies to share good practice and improve quickly. But one serious pollution incident is one too many. We will always work closely with companies who want to do the right thing but we will take action against those who don’t.
“Over the last 30 years there has been a significant improvement in water quality and this has happened not only thanks to the industry’s massive investment but also the Environment Agency’s strong regulatory role.
“The environment will benefit from a further £5 billion of investment from the water sector by 2025. We expect to see a clear and continued focus on environmental performance in the next round of water company business plans to be submitted in the autumn.”
Responding to the report, Water UK chief executive, Michael Roberts, said that the report “rightly highlights that the majority of the companies in the sector have a 'good' or 'leading' performance” when it comes to protecting and enhancing the environment.
He added: "The Environment Agency notes in the report that there has been a significant improvement in water quality, and acknowledges the industry's role in achieving it through substantial investment. By 2020, water companies will have invested around 25 billion in environmental work since 1995, and this action will mean around 10,000 miles of UK rivers have been improved and protected since then.
"In addition, the water industry has invested well over 2.5 billion since the 1990s to protect UK bathing waters, with the result that two thirds of UK beaches are now classed as excellent, compared with less than a third 25 years ago.
"Companies are looking to go further and plans for substantial investment in the environment are currently being finalised."
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