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Water Companies: Environment Protection

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL2050, tabled on 14 July 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have held with the Environment Agency following the publication of its report Water and sewerage companies in England: environmental performance report for 2020 on 13 July, in particular regarding its decision to grant the highest environmental performance rating to five water companies, despite the overall failure of the industry to reduce by 50 per cent the number of incidents in which significant amounts of raw sewage are released into the environment compared to 2012.

Answered on

3 August 2021

The assessment of environmental performance of water and sewerage companies in England is a made by the Environment Agency as the environmental regulator using a methodology that is published and has been consulted on with Defra and other organisations including eNGOs.

The environmental performance of a water company and the rating achieved is based on their performance against six metrics: total pollution incidents, serious pollution incidents, self-reporting of pollution incidents, discharge permit compliance, delivery of their environmental programme and their security of supply index for water resource. It is not based on the performance against any one metric such as serious pollution incidents.

Although the sector did not achieve an overall 50% reduction in serious pollution incidents compared to the number in 2012, the number of serious pollution incidents declined for the second year in a row and were at the lowest number ever at 44 in 2020. Three of the five water companies with the highest performance rating in 2020 (Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent and United Utilities) achieved more than a 50% reduction over the 2012 to 2020 period. However, the sector as a whole needs to accelerate to zero serious incidents and ramp up work to support the Government’s goal to ensure clean and plentiful water, as the report highlights.

There is more work to be done and over the last year the EA has made sure all companies develop and publish a pollution incident reduction plan for them to better understand their risks and implement interventions to reduce incident numbers. The EA has also worked with Ofwat to better align the financial penalties that they impose with environmental performance metrics. The EA will continue to use its influence and regulatory powers to require water companies to make timely, necessary and achievable improvements.