This included discussion about whether water companies are breaching the conditions of their permits, and what regulatory action the Environment Agency takes against those that do.
It is the legal duty and responsibility of water companies to abide by their permit conditions. These permits make clear that storm overflows should only be used in cases of heavy rainfall or snow melt, where the capacity of sewer system could be overwhelmed. If there is a breach, water companies should inform us. Failure by water companies to inform the Environment Agency, or to follow the other terms of their permit, is an offence.
Our enforcement action will depend on the nature of the offence, up to and including prosecution. Over the last six years the Environment Agency has brought 48 prosecutions against water companies, securing fines of £35 million.
It is clear that increased monitoring and reporting is also critical to the improvements that we all want to see. That is why the Environment Agency introduced Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) five years ago, which records how often and for how long storm overflows are used. We are now monitoring over 80% of the sewerage network and will be at 100% coverage by December 2023. All the data is available for anyone to access on gov.uk.
The Environment Agency will be giving evidence to the EAC inquiry in due course. It will also continue working with the government, the Storm Overflows Taskforce and others to bring about the changes needed to protect our water environment for future generations. We welcome the comments at the EAC about the public appetite for more investment in cleaner water – ensuring we have cleaner rivers and a better environment for all. The Environment Agency shares that ambition and is working hard to deliver it.