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Water Companies: Standards

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL2049, tabled on 14 July 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the statement by David Black, acting Chair of Ofwat, on 13 July that there should be a "step-change in culture and commitment" by water companies "to fundamentally change the way they deliver for customers and the environment".

Answered on

29 July 2021

The recent Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) report, to which David Black’s comments relate, spans the last 12 months and makes for extremely disappointing reading. Even the industry-leading water companies have more work to do, especially on the use of storm overflows. Water companies have environmental responsibilities and they must realise them. They have a legal duty to avoid pollution to our rivers and other waterways.

The Government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat announced on 22 July the consultation of the review of the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP), an ambitious programme of work that water companies are required to complete to meet their obligations from environmental legislation and UK Government policy. Water company actions driven by this programme have the potential to greatly enhance the natural environment, ultimately helping to protect the health of rivers and waterways in England and support sustainable growth.

For 2020 to 2025 water companies are investing £7.1 billion to protect and improve the environment. This includes the £5.2 billion invested through WINEP.

The strategic policy statement (SPS) for Ofwat published for consultation on July 22 outlines the Government’s key priorities for Ofwat’s regulation of the water sector in England. This includes water companies’ day-to-day environmental performance, with a focus on meeting the Government’s ambitions to significantly reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows. As well as challenging water companies to plan strategically their drainage and wastewater services in order to improve resilience and reduce pollution incidents, the Government expects Ofwat to challenge companies to continue to drive down leakage and improve water efficiency for the benefit of current and future customers.

The Environment Bill will also address this step change, with three new measures to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows:

The first statutory requirement will place a duty on Government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows and to reduce their impact. This plan will be informed by work of the Storm Overflows Taskforce and will be subject to consultation and informed by an impact assessment. The Government will consider a wide range of options, including measures proposed in the Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP’s Private Member’s Bill. The plan will complement existing Asset Management Plans and new statutory Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans produced by water companies.

There will be an additional statutory requirement for Government to report to Parliament on progress on implementing the plan every five years, which will align progress with existing Asset Management Plan cycles for maximum effectiveness.

The third requirement will be a duty on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis so that it is available and accessible to the public.

The Environment Bill will also require a legally binding, long-term water quality target. We are currently considering water targets on reducing pollution from wastewater, as well as agriculture and abandoned metal mines. Setting targets will provide a strong mechanism to deliver long-term environmental outcomes.