Five water firms under investigation over wastewater treatment practices

Ofwat has raised concerns over how these water companies were running sewage treatment works

Big Zero Report 2022

The water regulator has opened enforcement cases into five water firms as part of an investigation into how companies manage their wastewater treatment works.

More specifically, Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water have been asked to gather further information for enforcement purposes.

This follows an analysis of the information water and wastewater companies submitted to Ofwat in late December about how many of their sewage treatment works might not be meeting requirements in their environmental permits,

Ofwat has raised concerns over aspects of these five companies’ submissions.

David Black, Ofwat interim Chief Executive, said: “The data that emerged at the end of last year suggested widespread shortcomings in how water companies were running sewage treatment works. The first phase of our investigation suggests those concerns are credible.

“We have identified shortcomings in most water and wastewater companies and are continuing to investigate. But we have already seen enough in five companies to cause serious concern and warrant us taking further action.

“We will now dig deeper into what these five companies have been doing, with the prospect of formal enforcement against them if we find they are failing on obligations Ofwat enforces.

“We will have further questions for all companies on this. In the meantime, we expect them to make quick progress in addressing any potential non-compliance they might have, whilst strengthening how they manage their environmental obligations as a whole.”

A Thames Water spokesperson told ELN: “We have long held the view that it is unacceptable for untreated sewage to enter rivers, even when legally permitted and we take this matter very seriously.

“We set out our position at the Environmental Audit Committee and are committed to being transparent and have been developing an action plan, prior to Ofwat’s review, to radically improve our position in order to protect and improve the environment. We will fully cooperate with Ofwat on this next stage of the investigation.

“We have allocated an unprecedented amount of investment directed towards safeguarding our rivers and streams, including spending £1.25 billion on maintaining and improving our operational sites, including contributing to the health of 745 kilometres of rivers across London and the Thames Valley.

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for rivers and for the communities who love and value them. We are already taking action to reduce discharges of untreated sewage and welcome measures that will enable us to deliver our long-term aspirations faster to the benefit of both the communities we serve and the environment we seek to protect.”

A Yorkshire spokesperson told ELN: “We take our commitment to care for the environment very seriously. We will of course be cooperating fully with the investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment any further while it is ongoing.”

A Wessex Water spokesperson told ELN: “Wessex Water is undertaking a thorough investigation, as part of an industry-wide programme agreed with the Environment Agency and Ofwat, into the accuracy of flow measurement and any implications for full to flow treatment (FFT) at all of its treatment works with flow consents.

“Findings are shared regularly with the Environment Agency and we are working with Ofwat to provide the further information they have now requested.”

An Anglian Water spokesperson told ELN: “We will, of course, continue to support Ofwat with the information they request. We’ve been transparent throughout and the regulator could have asked us at any point for further detail, which we would have provided.

“We want the public to know they can trust Anglian Water, and that we take our environmental obligations very seriously. We’re already ahead of schedule delivering our £800 million programme of environmental improvements between now and 2025, which is specifically targeted at areas where we know we can make a difference.”

Richard Warneford, Wastewater Director for Northumbrian Water, said: “The environment is at the heart of everything we do. In its latest assessment, the Environment Agency awarded our environmental performance Four Stars, the highest rating possible and we are proud of this and our industry-leading performance on pollution.

“We recognise the gravity of the investigation, will fully comply with the requests made and take our responsibilities very seriously. We were already working closely with our regulators on how we monitor sewage treatment works and have active programmes of work that we are investing significantly in at present.

“We will continue to liaise closely on our environmental activity with the Environment Agency, Defra and Ofwat as this process continues.”

If you enjoyed this story you can sign up to our weekly email for Energy Live News – and if you’re interested in hearing more about the journey to net zero by 2050, you can also sign up to the future Net Zero newsletter. 

Latest Podcast