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How we’re challenging water companies to improve their environmental performance

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A river with green trees and bushes along the banks

Today there is coverage in Utility Week, Water & Wastewater Treatment and Construction Index of Environment Minister Rebecca Pow challenging water companies to improve their environmental performance and protect our natural resources.

The chief executives of fifteen water companies met with the minister yesterday (8 September) as she called on them to take further action to protect the environment, improve leakage levels and safeguard our water supplies. Representatives from Ofwat, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Water UK, The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) and the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) also attended the meeting.

While water companies coped well under increased pressure during lockdown, Minister Pow made clear stronger action was needed to deliver on environmental priorities around the use of storm overflows, chalk streams and leakage.

A new Taskforce has been set up for Defra, the EA, Ofwat and Water UK to set out proposals to reduce the frequency and volumes of sewage discharges from storm overflows. The Environment Bill will also allow government to set legally binding wastewater targets.

The Minister also urged water companies to raise their ambitions around improving chalk stream catchments and asked them to join her at a Chalk Stream summit she will host on 16 October.

The government’s expectation for leakage rates to be halved by 2050 was also reiterated. A new national framework was published in March 2020 by the Environment Agency setting out the scale of action needed to safeguard our water supplies for the future, requiring collective action from government, water companies, businesses and the general public.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

Water companies need to take their environmental obligations seriously and this impetus must come from the top.

Despite investment from the industry, the damage inflicted on our environment – our rivers, lakes, streams and the wildlife that rely on them – is still far too great. Today we discussed a number of issues I feel strongly about, including storm overflows, and how we can work together to see much more ambitious improvements.

This country’s green recovery from coronavirus can only happen if water companies step up and play their part.

Harvey Bradshaw, Executive Director of Environment and Business at the Environment Agency, said:

Our water environment is precious and under huge and increasing pressure from a growing population and the climate emergency.

Our environmental targets are ambitious and we are challenging water companies to go faster and further on environment, leakage and protecting supplies. Water companies have a key role to safeguard our water environment and we will regulate them as a modern regulator should; rewarding excellence and sanctioning behaviour that harms the environment. In this way we will be working with them to drive up standards including through our new Taskforce on storm overflows.

Everybody shares a crucial responsibility to protect the environment for future generations, and we will continue to work with all parties to deliver much-needed improvements

The meeting follows the joint letter sent to water companies in July, encouraging them to accelerate investment as part of the country’s green economic recovery from coronavirus.

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  1. Comment by Michael Heylin OBE posted on

    Water companies continuously provide plans for improvements which OFWAT rejects because of the price of water going up to the consumer to fund the investments. What is it about business that Tories no longer understand or is it just that none of the present government has ever had a real job in the real world. Close OFWAT, save the cost and let the watercos deliver for consumers and the environment. The system is broken and has been by successive governments. And please stop pointing the finger at others for what are clearly political failings.

  2. Comment by Lucy Rodriguez-Laranjo posted on

    You cannot just blame water companies. You have to target the polluters - industry and especially agriculture. Some water companies are actually doing the government’s job and incentivising farmers not to pollute - this is what the new ELMS must achieve. Polluters must pay. Future payments must be based on public goods, but there must also be penalties for those guilty of pollution - that money can be rolled back in to fund more environmental restoration, creating a virtuous circle that is both economically efficient and speedily restores the environment.