Sewage and Wastewater Discharges into Rivers by Water Companies

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2023 National Water, Environment & Transport Conference
20 February 2023

More than ever, water quality is at the forefront of public consciousness. Due to Ofwat’s regulatory approach, which prioritises value for money for the consumer, and the companies adopting risk-based strategies to deliver maximum profits for their owners, little money is spent on maintaining infrastructure. This issue has been brought to light with the increased sewage discharges by water companies polluting our rivers and pose a risk for the public in enjoying water-based activities and a negative impact on local wildlife. As a result, in November 2021, the Environment Agency and Ofwat announced major investigations into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewage companies for sewage treatment works. The investigations revealed that many water companies could be breaching their permit conditions.

Southern Water pleaded guilty to 6,971 illegal sewage discharges between 2010 and 2015 at 17 treatment works in Hampshire, Kent and West Sussex and was fined £90m, recently Anglian Water was also fined more than £500,000 for failing to stop raw sewage from being discharged into rivers. Conference notes that these treatment works are obsolete and need replacing; had it not been for the workforce’s skills, these assets would have packed up years ago. These financial penalties do not allow companies to invest in key infrastructure and staff development. For example, Anglian Water announced that 33 jobs may be at risk in February 2023, which was the impact of strict Final Determination they had to adhere to in their price review submission. This situation could lead to considerable insecurity for members and negatively impact members’ pay, terms and conditions.

Conference calls on the WET Service Group Executive jointly with the Water Industry Sector Committee to:

1) Work with the TUC, Labour Link, and other appropriate channels on the renationalisation agenda in bringing water back into public ownership.

2) Raise this issue with the Ofwat to ensure that the regulator is aware of our concerns on employment matters.

3) Work with other stakeholders including NGOs in campaigning for stronger powers for the Environment Agency in prosecuting polluters.

4) Coordinate our concerns with other trade unions in the water sector to ensure that any response is as effective as possible.