Ofwat has fined just one water company over 1994 sewage spill rules

The water business regulator has fined only one privatised utility for breaching rules designed to stop sewage spills in England for the reason that guidelines got here into power virtually 30 years in the past, in accordance with official information.

Regardless of a whole bunch of 1000’s of sewage spills into rivers and coastal waters lately, Ofwat’s solely effective for breaching the wastewater rules was imposed on Southern Water in 2019, in accordance with information obtained below a freedom of knowledge (FOI) request. The corporate was hit with £126mn in penalties for breaking the principles that date again to 1994.

The disclosure got here as the federal government mentioned it will seek the advice of on whether or not the Atmosphere Company ought to have the ability to impose limitless civil penalties on water corporations for environmental hurt. It is usually proposing a ban on the usage of plastic in moist wipes, which account for almost all of sewer blockages.

Ministers have come below rising strain to deal with water air pollution and be sure that the business’s two regulators — Ofwat and the EA — have the assets wanted to carry corporations to account.

Water minister Rebecca Pow mentioned final week mentioned that the file of water corporations in England was “unacceptable” after official information confirmed there have been 301,091 sewage spills into rivers and the ocean final 12 months, and 372,533 in 2021. Based on the FT’s evaluation of EA information, it has recorded greater than 1.5mn sewage spills since 2016.

“The underside line is that Ofwat as a regulator has been absent from a critically necessary a part of its responsibility” and should do extra “to implement the prevailing laws”, mentioned Nick Measham, chief government of the marketing campaign group WildFish, which filed the FOI request.

Emma Dearnaley, authorized director of the Good Legislation Undertaking, which is concerned in instances of alleged sewage dumping, mentioned the findings “expose how little the regulators have achieved to carry non-public water corporations accountable for the sewage disaster that now blights our nation.”

Laws courting again to 1991 on the remedy of uncooked sewage requires the water business to “effectually” cope with it to minimise the discharge of untreated wastewater into the setting. Beneath the 1994 rules, corporations should guarantee sewage remedy crops had been maintained to make sure “enough efficiency below all regular native weather conditions.”

The Workplace for Environmental Safety, the chief company arrange post-Brexit to watch compliance with environmental laws, launched a probe final 12 months into whether or not the federal government and regulators had been correctly policing sewage spillages.

Ofwat enforces compliance total and should be sure that corporations make investments appropriately of their infrastructure. Any firm that desires to launch untreated sewage to stop their system from being overwhelmed, for instance after heavy rain, should individually apply to the EA for permission.

Ofwat acknowledged it had solely levied one effective below the 1994 guidelines however mentioned it had imposed monetary penalties towards corporations for lacking efficiency targets, together with on water remedy works and air pollution incidents.

It mentioned it had opened six instances into potential breaches final 12 months of the 1994 wastewater rules and is conducting a sector-wide probe, launched in 2021, alongside the EA into potential unlawful discharges at greater than 2,000 sewage works.

It introduced on Monday that it had authorised 31 tasks below a plan to speed up water firm infrastructure funding.

The EA mentioned it was “holding the water business to account on a scale by no means seen earlier than”.

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