The main water utilities operating in England have come under fire by the Environment Agency (EA) for an increase in the number of major pollution incidents recorded last year.
A new government report – Environmental performance of the water and sewerage companies in 2016 – revealed that pollution incidents increased from 1742 in 2015 to 1902 in 2016.
The first increase in pollution incidents since 2012, the report recorded data from nine utilities, including: Anglian Water; Northumbrian Water; Severn Trent Water; Southern Water; South West Water; Thames Water; United Utilities; Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water.
The EA has three classifications of pollution incidents:
- Category 1 incident has a serious, extensive or persistent impact on the environment, people or property and may, for example, result in many fish deaths;
- Category 2 incidents have a lesser, yet significant impact;
- Category 3 incidents have a minor or minimal impact on the environment, people or property with only a limited or localized effect on water quality.
The report revealed that in 2016, the number of “Category 1” incidents rose to nine, from the lowest ever level of four seen in both 2014 and 2015.
2016 was also the first year to see several million-pound fines handed out by the courts to water companies for pollution incidents.
In total, the EA prosecuted water companies 10 times in 2016, mainly related to wastewater treatment plants. This compared to nine times in 2015.
In March this year, Thames Water was fined an unprecedented £20.3 million in fines for a series of significant pollution incidents on the River Thames.
Meanwhile, eight of the nine water companies gained full marks for protecting water supply security, which the EA said is “crucial following the dry winter as some rivers, reservoirs and groundwaters are lower than normal for the time of year but there are no water supply issues”.
For sludge, safe recovery or disposal took place 99.9% of the time and was mostly used to improve agricultural land, generate heat or power.
And compliance with permits at sewage treatment and water treatment works is at 98.6% on average.