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Water and sewerage company performance 'declines'

The performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies when tackling pollution has hit a new low, the Environment Agency has said.

Water Quality On Derwent Panty

Water quality is an issue that is deeply concerning for the paddling community and the Environment Agency’s annual report only adds to that worry.

It showed that overall in 2021, the performance of the companies fell to the lowest level seen under the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA).

The Environment Agency has demanded prison sentences for Chief Executives and Board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents. 

It follows a statement by the Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty, saying that raw sewage entering our rivers was becoming a “growing health problem”.

The Agency said water companies remain undeterred by the penalties currently being issued by the courts after breaching environmental laws.

There were 62 serious incidents for 2021, the highest since 2013. 

Southern Water and South West Water were given a one star rating, four companies were rated only two stars - meaning they require significant improvement. 

 Severn Trent was one of three companies to receive four out of four stars along with United Utilities and Northumbrian Water.

Anglian Water, Severn Trent, South West Water and Northumbrian Water, have agreed to reduce their sewage overflows to an average of no more than 20 discharges a year by 2025

We hope minds will now be focused on the water companies urgently cleaning up their acts so we can all enjoy healthy inland and coastal waters free from sewage pollution.

– Chantelle Grundy, British Canoeing’s Access & Environment Lead

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the report showed that water companies are “ignoring their legal responsibilities” and their chiefs cannot continue to make “huge profits whilst polluting our waters”.

“We will not tolerate this behaviour and we will take robust action if we don’t see urgent improvements,” a spokesperson said.

Chantelle Grundy, British Canoeing’s access & environment lead, said: “It was totally unacceptable that sewage was released 370,000 times into our rivers in 2021, a place where children and families paddle. 

“We hope minds will now be focused on the water companies urgently cleaning up their acts so we can all enjoy healthy inland and coastal waters free from sewage pollution.”

Since 2015 the Environment Agency’s prosecutions against water companies have secured fines of over £138m. Read more on this story, here.

Surfers Against Sewage are calling for support to help end sewage pollution. You can sign their petition, here.

They also have a page where you can report a suspected pollution incident.

The Clear Access, Clear Waters campaign will continue to campaign for clean waters for all to enjoy and connect with nature.

Recent stories on this issue: 

Sewage in water is ‘growing health problem’
Government responds to “chemical cocktail” report
British Canoeing responds to the government's sewage plan
Sewage data published by the Environment Agency