Water companies told to spell out how they’ll protect river health

Ofwat has called on water companies to spell out plans for how they will cut the harm they cause to rivers in England.

Parliament passed the Environment Act 2021 which will put new duties on water companies to reduce environmental and public health harm from the use of storm overflows.

This comes in light of new evidence that water companies are regularly releasing sewage into the environment through storm overflows, which are meant to be used as a safety valve to prevent the sewer network becoming overwhelmed at times of heavy rainfall.

Improving the sector’s impact on rivers and reducing harm from storm overflows will require companies to understand and address the root causes of the issue.

David Black, Ofwat’s acting Chief Executive, said:

“I expect water companies to own responsibility for the impact they have on the environment. That means better measuring and monitoring to understand the impact as well as reducing the harm they cause.

“Customers and the wider public want to know how their water company is stepping up to address environmental concerns. Actions can and must start now, I want companies to spell out their actions and intended impacts and timeframes for reducing harm to our rivers.”

Ofwat expects the company plans to run up to March 2025. The published plans should support, and relate to, any company response to forthcoming targets from Government regarding improvements to river quality.

This intervention comes after Ofwat issued a letter to water company remuneration committee Chairs reiterating that performance related remuneration should reflect performance for customers and the environment.

In parallel, Ofwat is conducting a live investigation related to companies’ management of their wastewater treatment works. The regulator expects to issue an update in the coming weeks on the progress of this investigation and any further action it intends to take.




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