Water companies face unlimited fines for dumping sewage

The government reportedly plans to introduce unlimited fines for water companies found guilty of dumping sewage into rivers and seas

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The government will reportedly lift a cap on fines for water companies dumping sewage into rivers and the sea, with plans to be announced soon.

The cap on penalties for such offences could be lifted from the current £250,000.

Even though the release of untreated waste is legal in some cases, it poses risks to human health and the environment.

Official data revealed that there were around 825 sewage spills per day into England’s waterways last year.

The latest figures from the Environment Agency are cause for alarm, with United Utilities and Yorkshire Water responsible for a staggering 124,000 sewage spills in England last year, comprising over 40% of all recorded incidents.

Both companies have acknowledged the severity of the issue and vowed to take action. United Utilities admitted that there is “much more to be done” and announced ambitious plans for further improvements, while Yorkshire Water asserted that reducing overflows is a “priority” and a “significant task” that they are “determined to tackle”.

Last year, a total of 301,081 sewage spills were recorded, representing a 19% decrease from 2021, mainly due to drier weather.

The Environment Secretary said that the fines will be taken from water company profits and invested in rivers, lakes and streams.

In response to the release of the latest data on sewage spill incidents, an Ofwat spokesperson told ELN: “Today’s data on storm overflows is further evidence of wastewater companies not owning their responsibility for the impact they have on the environment.

“We are acutely aware of the damage this does to our natural resources and to public trust. That’s why we have taken action to ensure companies are investing all of the money available to them and have demanded plans for how they will cut the harm they cause to our rivers.

“We have strengthened rules to allow us to take enforcement action against companies that pay dividends to shareholders where their performance does not meet our expectations.

“In addition, bonuses will no longer be funded by customers if companies’ obligations to the environment are not being met. Where companies fall short, we act – over the last 5 years, we have imposed penalties and payments of over £250 million and we currently have our biggest ever investigation underway with live investigations into six companies.”

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