The industry regulator announced on Tuesday that the privatised water and sewerage companies in Britain will be penalized from 2025 if they use faulty or damaged equipment to measure pollution coming from storm overflow pipe.
Ofwat, a financial watchdog in the water industry, said that it would also set binding targets to force water companies reduce their sewage spills. Storm overflow pipes release a mixture of rainwater and sewage to public waterways.
Ofwat currently has the power to penalise companies financially for spills originating from storm overflow pipes, but now all discharges will be subject to financial penalties if they exceed targets.
Water companies and regulators are taking these measures to respond to public pressure. They were accused by the media of paying out high dividends, and receiving pay packages for presiding at serious pollution failures.
The chief executives of Yorkshire Water (on Tuesday), Thames Water (on Wednesday) and South West Water (on Thursday) all agreed to waive bonuses for this year, following widespread criticism about utilities’ failures to invest in critical infrastructure and curb sewage disposal.
Since 2009, water companies are responsible for monitoring pollution discharges. Since 2015, however, they are required to install event-duration monitors on their overflow pipes that record the frequency and duration of spills.
EDMs are installed in approximately 90 percent of storm overflow pipe installations. The remainder is due to be completed by the end this year.
Nevertheless, data from Environment Agency, the pollution monitor, showed that many monitors did not work last year. Ofwat reported on Tuesday that in 2022, around one-sixth of devices will not work at 90%.
Ofwat has said that in cases where monitors do not work, it will assume spills to be twice as bad as current averages and penalise the companies accordingly.
Consultations are underway and the proposals will be implemented in 2025, along with other measures to improve the performance of water groups.
Nick Measham is the chief executive of WildFish. He welcomed the measures and called them a “step forward” but wondered why it had taken so long to implement since 1989, when the privatisation of water was implemented. “These announcements are wonderful, but they’re worthless until the government and regulators enforce the existing legislation,” said Measham.
Aileen Armstrong of Ofwat said, “Companies must reduce their use of storm overflows.” We will introduce measures that hold companies accountable for their actions and ensure they are monitoring storm overflows effectively.
We will continue to use our full power to force companies to deal with this issue.
Water UK, the industry’s representative, stated: “By 2023, every storm overflow will be monitored in England.”
By the end of next year, all water companies will have made this information available online, so that swimmers, canoeists and tourists, as well as anglers and fishermen, will be able to view exactly what is happening across rivers and beaches.