Water company chiefs challenged on environmental performance

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said while water companies coped well under increased pressure during the lockdown, she made clear much stronger action is needed on environmental priorities

The heads of 15 water companies have been challenged by the government to do more to protect the environment, reduce leakage and safeguard the nation’s water supplies.

They met with Environment Minister Rebecca Pow – along with representatives from Ofwat, the Environment Agency (EA), Natural England, Water UK, The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) and the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) – who made clear much stronger action is needed on environmental priorities.

She said while water companies coped well under increased pressure during the lockdown, more action is needed in certain areas, including reducing the volumes of sewage discharged into rivers and other waterways during extreme weather.

A new Taskforce has been set up between Defra, the EA, Ofwat and Water UK, which will meet regularly and set out proposals to reduce the frequency and volume of these incidents, in addition to the Environment Bill allowing government to set legally binding wastewater targets.

Ms Pow added chalk streams, known for their clear waters and rich wildlife, continue to be at risk due to low flows, poor water quality and unsustainable abstraction by water companies – and therefore urged them to significantly raise their ambition to improve chalk stream catchments.

In addition, she reiterated the government’s expectation for water leakage rates to be halved by 2050.

The meeting comes ahead of the EA’s annual report on water companies’ environmental performance, which will be published later this month.

Ms 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.”

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