We have seen substantial improvements, particularly in recent years, however I recognise that there is more to do to continue driving up the quality of our rivers, lakes and coastal areas so people can enjoy then and nature can thrive.
The Government's record & response to FAQs:
- Water has improved since privatisation.
- Bathing waters in the best state ever - last year 93% were classified as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Serious sewerage incidents fell from 500 a year in the nineties to 62 in 2021. 80% less phosphorus and 85% less ammonia in wastewater discharging into rivers from 1990. Cadmium and mercury have reduced by 50% since 2008. Leakage has reduced by a third. Supply interruptions to customers decreased 5-fold.
- We need to do more.
- 14% of rivers are at Good Ecological Status because of climate change, increased population, farming, growing urban development, wastewater pollution, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other pressures. Environment takes time to naturally recover - there is a lag time between our actions and benefits being seen to the ecology in the water system. It will be decades before the nitrates applied in the latter half of the 20th century move through groundwaters into our rivers and streams and reaches peak levels – legacy pollution. 4,000 Million litre a day gap (around 30% of the Public Water Supply) by 2050 due to climate change and growing population.
- New Environment Act 2021 targets to sort major pressures on water.
- Legislated to significantly reduce pollution from agriculture, wastewater treatment works and abandoned metal mines pollution - particular issue for former industrial areas. Water companies will be required to upgrade over 2000 wastewater treatment works of which around 400 will need to meet the strictest limit for phosphorus discharges.
- Water companies are investing more to improve the environment.
- Between 2020 and 2025, water companies are investing £7.1bn to improve the environment. Of this, £3.1bn is to improve storm overflows (£1.9bn for the Thames Tideway Tunnel 'super sewer', and £1.2bn throughout England).
- Reducing sewage discharges now.
- £3.1 billion invested in storm overflow improvements - 800 improvements across the country – reducing sewage discharges by 25% by 2025. Published Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, requiring water companies to deliver their largest ever infrastructure investment - £56 billion of capital investment over 25 years – will improve thousands of storm overflows. Strengthened the law in the Environment Act on sewage discharges. No vote to ‘legalise sewage discharges’. Discharges unlawful before the Environment Act are still unlawful. We are tightening permits not weakening them.
- Prioritising action on sewage discharges into bathing waters and priority nature sites.
- 5,500 storm overflows in high priority sites. By 2035, water companies must improve all storm overflows discharging into or near every designated bathing water; and improve 75% of overflows discharging to high priority nature sites.
- Building Europe’s largest infrastructure project to reduce sewage discharges.
- £4.3 bn invested in Thames Tideway Tunnel super sewer. 25km long and 7.2 metres in diameter, it will be completed in 2025.
- We must protect the public from big bill increases.
- No impact on customer bills before 2025. Our Storm Overflow Reduction Plan will mean an estimated £12 average increase in customer water bills between 2020-2025 . We ruled out options which could cost up to £600 billion and increase annual water bills by up to £817 per year by 2049. Going faster would mean higher bills and more carbon dioxide pollution.
- We cannot fix the sewer system overnight – no big red button.
- Victorian infrastructure from 1839. Our combined sewer network stretches 2.5 times around the world. Nearly 15,000 storm overflows. Upgrades mean digging up roads to separate pipes across England, large storage tanks.
- Mandatory monitoring to understand what is going on.
- We have required water companies to increase the number of storm overflows monitored across the network from 10% in 2015 to almost 90% now monitored, and we will reach 100% cover by end of this year. Regulators now able to carry out a major industry-wide investigations (criminal and civil) into potential non-compliance by water companies at wastewater treatment works. 90,000 EA water quality sampling visits a year.
- Water companies must pay for failures.
- The Environment Agency already has unlimited fine powers through criminal prosecution. Since 2015, the Environment Agency has brought 58 prosecutions against water companies, securing fines of over £142 million. Government will consult on extending and raising the EA civil sanctions fine cap– only £250k currently - all options on the table including a fine cap of £250m. EA already able to launch criminal prosecution against CEOs. Ofwat has the power to fine up to 10% of a company’s annual turnover. All fines are taken from water company profits. Water company fines will go into water environmental. Ofwat forced companies to return £135m to customers as a result of poor water company performance against 21/22 performance commitments.
- Tackling company dividends.
- Total dividend declared across the sector in 2021-22 was £1bn and the weighted average dividend yield on that basis was 3.8% - a reasonable level, as need to encourage investment in the sector to fund new infrastructure but payouts should be linked to environmental performance and customer service..
- Pay must be linked to performance.
- In the 2019 price review, Ofwat asked companies to link executive pay to delivery for customers. Ofwat exploring options, include making shareholders and not customers pay for bonuses, where companies are unable to demonstrate their decisions reflect Ofwat's expectations. This is set out in their Final Methodology for PR24, December 2022.
- Tackling agricultural pollution.
- c.100,000 farms that cover 70% of the land in England. Extra funding for the EA for over 4,000 farm inspections per year - targeting inspections in catchments where protected nature sites are in an unfavourable condition. Catchment Sensitive Farming will cover 100% of England’s farmland with every farmer able to access advice and support by March 2023. Opened £13 million Slurry Infrastructure Grant to support the sector to reduce nutrient pollution.
- We are stopping leaks.
- In 2021-22 leakage was 88.7 million litres per day –massive reduction compared to a leakage rate of 3,281 million litres per day in 2009-10. Ofwat set out a £51 billion five-year investment package in its 2019 Price Review for the 2020-25 period, including requirements for water companies to cut leaks by 16% and reduce mains bursts by 12% by 2025.
- We have increased funding for EA.
- This Government has increased the Environment Agency’s overall grant in aid funding by over 40%, and capital funding by 80%, since 2010. This includes both funding for flood risk management and environmental protection. Recently given an extra 2.2 million per year to Environment Agency for water company enforcement activity.
INVESTMENT SINCE PRIVITISATION
- The government has no plans to bring water into public ownership and believes renationalisation would be a backward step that would cost the taxpayer, reduce investment, and stifle innovation.
- We consider the private model to be the best way to secure the right investment for the water sector.
- Privatisation has unlocked around £190 billion of investment in water and sewerage infrastructure, customer service improvements and enhanced water quality; equivalent to around £5 billion annually, almost double the pre-privatisation level.
- Since privatisation in 1989, approx. £25 billion has been invested to reduce pollution from sewage.
- Leakage has reduced by a third.
- Supply interruptions to customers decreased 5-fold.
- 70% of UK beaches are now classed as excellent.
- Serious sewerage incidents fell from 500 a year to 62 in 2021.
- There is now 67% less phosphorus and 79% less ammonia in wastewater discharging into rivers.
RECENT ACTION AND ENVIRONMENT ACT
- Environment Act targets:
a. Set four new legally binding long-term targets for water, to tackle some of the most significant pressures on the water environment and help us reach our overarching ambition for clean and plentiful water in the EIP.
i. Reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution from agriculture into the water environment by at least 40% by 31 December 2038.
ii. Reduce phosphorus loadings from treated wastewater by 80% by 31 December 2038.
iii. Halve the length of rivers polluted by harmful metals from abandoned mines by 31 December 2038.
iv. Reduce the use of public water supply in England per head of population by 20% by 31 March 2038.
2. Agricultural pollution:
a. Doubled funding available for the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme to £30 million in each of the next 3 years to cover all farmland in England;
b. Opened the first year of new farming funding through the Sustainable Farming Incentive; and launching the Slurry Infrastructure Grant scheme to give farmers access to loans of up to £250,000 to upgrade their slurry storage capacity as part of a £13 million investment package.
3. Wastewater pollution:
a. Tackled nutrient pollution with an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to require water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works.
4. Storm overflows:
a. Published our Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, requiring water companies to deliver their largest ever environmental infrastructure investment - £56 billion of capital investment over 25 years to tackle storm sewage discharges
• First government to require companies to start comprehensively monitoring spillage.
• Expanded the storm overflows monitoring programme from only 10% of storm overflows monitored in 2015 to nearly 90% in 2021.
Environment Act measures on water quality
8. The Environment Act 2021 strengthened our laws on water quality, and included:
b. Powers for Ofwat to more easily change water company licence conditions. Ofwat are now consulting on proposals which would provide extra powers for Ofwat to take enforcement action against companies that don’t link dividend payments to their environmental performance.
c. Statutory requirement for water companies to:
i. Reduce frequency and volume of discharges from storm overflows.
ii. Record and report in real time storm overflow operation, including frequency and duration.
iii. Monitor the water quality impact of discharges up and downstream of all assets
Claims on vote to ‘legalise sewage dumping’
- Discharges that were unlawful prior to Environment Act 2021 are still unlawful.
- No permit conditions have been relaxed as a result of the Environment Act.
- The provisions of the Environment Act 2021 don’t alter the existing position under Water Industry Act, the Urban Wastewater Treatment Regulations 1994 and the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016.
- The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan provides new money over a period of 25 years to enable the tightening of permit conditions, meaning that in future discharges currently lawful will become unlawful. We are going beyond those current tests in the 1994 Regulations, something only possible through the introduction of new funding
Government changing water quality target to 2063
- There have been inaccurate claims in the media that the target for good ecological status has been moved back to 2063. This is categorically not true.
- In December last year, the Environment Agency published their River Basin Management Plans which set objectives of Good Ecological Status for 75% of surface water bodies by 2027. The Plans included modelling which shows that for a small group of ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (uPBTs – specifically Mercury, PFOS and PBDE), the level of pollution will not naturally decline to acceptable levels until 2063.
- Although most of these are banned from use, there is no technically feasible way to remove this historic pollution from the water environment.
- 2063 is a modelling prediction by the Environment Agency of when these chemicals will have naturally reduced, it does not overrule any existing targets. This is compliant with the Water Framework Directive which has always allowed an extended time frame beyond 2027 for water bodies to naturally recover once actions to stop emissions of certain pollutants have been carried out.
- This situation is not unique to England. This is an issue faced internationally and EU states that have also chosen to undertake biota monitoring for uPBTs such as Germany, Sweden and Austria, return comparable results.
- 97% of all surface water bodies in England would be at Good Chemical Status were it not for the presence of some uPBT substances
STORM OVERFLOWS DISCHARGE REDUCTION PLAN
- Our Plan will require water companies to deliver the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £56 billion capital investment over 25 years.
- Our new strict targets will see the toughest ever crack down on sewage spills:
- By 2035, water companies must improve all storm overflows discharging into or near every designated bathing water; and improve 75% of overflows discharging to high priority nature sites. Our plan sets out that high priority nature sites account for approximately 5,500 storm overflows, over a third of the total number of overflows in England.
- By 2050, all remaining storm overflows covered by our targets will also have to meet the new requirements on rainfall and environmental impact, regardless of location.
- Government will review the targets in 2027, so that we stay as ambitious as possible, while balancing the impact on consumers.
Faster and bigger targets on storm overflows
- Government has introduced a review point on target timelines in 2027, so we remain as ambitious as possible, while balancing impacts on bill payers.
- Our Storm Overflows Plan balances ambition and pace with impact on consumer bills. Our Plan will see £56 billion capital investment, and an estimated £12 average increase in customer water bills between 2025 and 2030. We ruled out options adding £122 to household bills per year for the same period.
NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS
Comparisons to Europe
- The UK has among the highest levels of combined sewers, in terms of length, when compared with some EU member states, therefore giving the UK a relatively high frequency of storm overflow discharges.
Wastewater treatment works compliance:
- UK had high compliance rates with the wastewater legislation while we were in the EU and that has continued after leaving the EU.
- The UK compliance levels with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive are at or above the EU average and comparable with the better performing Member States, with around 95% of urban areas complying with the Directive’s treatment standards.
- Based on 2018 data, the average compliance rate across the EU is 76%
- In Germany, it is 100%
- In the Netherlands, it is 100%
- In the UK, it is 96%
- In Belgium, it is 95%
- In France, it is 90%
- In Spain, it is 84%
- In Italy, it is 56%
Comparisons to Wales and Scotland
- There is no general requirement for event duration monitors on storm overflows in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is only required in specific circumstances like bathing waters. Welsh Water reports that 97% of overflows are monitored in Wales.
- Rainfall is notably higher in Wales than England, higher rainfall results in an increase in the use of storm overflows. Storm overflows in Wales have average spills of 44 per year, compared to 29 spills per year for England. The average duration of spills in Wales is 8.4 hours compared to England at 7.4 hours.
WATER COMPANY PROFITS AND CEOs
Water company profit and dividend sanctions
- Fines are already paid out of water company operating profits, and are not added to customer bills.
- Ofwat’s outcome delivery incentives (ODIs) also ensure that where companies do not meet their performance commitments they must reimburse customers for performing below their commitments (known as ‘underperformance payments’).
- Government has also given Ofwat improved powers, through the Environment Act, to modify water company licenses without consent. They consulted (July – Sept 2022) on a range of licence modifications to strengthen companies’ financial resilience, including requiring companies to declare how dividends reflect performance which the government supports.
Bonuses for Water Company CEOs
- In the 2019 price review Ofwat asked companies to link executive pay to delivery for customers. They set guidance for companies on how they report executive pay.
- We urge all companies to take this opportunity to review their policies and approaches ahead of the 2022/23 bonus round to ensure that this is the case
- The estimated average water and sewerage bill for England and Wales in 2023-2024 is £448. This is £1.23 a day. This is significantly less compared to the average gas and electricity bill of £2,500.
- The recent water bill increase was mainly due to the high rate of inflation.
- All water companies offer bill discount schemes such as Watersure and social tariffs, as well as other measures such as payment holidays, adjusting payment plans, water efficiency advice and supporting customers on managing their personal finances.
- We are exploring options to improve our existing social tariff arrangements to improve fairness and consistency across water company regions
Drinking water contamination with sewage claim
- Sewage is not in the drinking water supply. This misinformation is highly dangerous.
- We have disinfected water for 100 years and the UK has completely separated any disease burden to do with water supply pollution.
- Drinking water in England is of an excellent standard. Companies take over 3.5 million tests every year to demonstrate the continuing high standard.
Q. Drinking water contamination with PFAS claim
- UK drinking water standards are of a very high standard, among the best in the world.
- Water companies are required to carry out regular risk assessments and sampling for PFAS to ensure the drinking water supply remains safe.
RETAINED EU LAW BILL
- This government is committed to protecting and enhancing water quality. Our Environment Act has only strengthened regulations since we left the EU.
- We have set legally binding targets for the water environment covering pollution from wastewater, agriculture, abandoned metal mines and reducing water demand.
- In the Environmental Improvement Plan we committed to restoring 400 miles of river through the first round of Landscape Recovery projects and establishing 3,000 hectares of new woodlands along England’s rivers. We are also aiming to achieve good ecological status in 75% of water bodies as per the Water Framework Directive Regulations.