The Environment Agency and the Water Services Regulation Authority has launched a major investigation into sewage treatment works after new checks saw multiple water companies admit they were potentially releasing unpermitted sewage discharges into rivers and watercourses.
The investigation will see the EA and Ofwat look into more than 2,000 sewage treatment works, with any company caught breaching legal permits likely to face enforcement action, including prosecution and fines of up to 10% of annual turnover for civil cases, or an unlimited amount in criminal proceedings.
The EA and Ofwat highlighted that in recent years they had been pushing water companies to improve their day-to-day performance and meet progressively higher standards in order to protect the environment.
As part of this, the EA has been checking that water companies comply with requirements and has asked them to fit new monitors at sewage treatment works, with several water companies now revealing that many of their sewage treatment works may not be compliant, putting them in breach of permits.
Ofwat chair Jonson Cox said: “Customers pay water companies to treat wastewater and protect and enhance rivers and wildlife. The public will be extremely disappointed if these reports are confirmed. Ofwat takes any reports of water companies breaking the law very seriously.
“We have launched an investigation relating to companies’ management of their wastewater treatment works which will examine any instance of systemic management failure, or the misreporting of data. If we find reason to act, Ofwat will use our full range of powers to hold companies to account for their failures and to require them to put things right in very short order.”
Any water companies not abiding by permits will be expected to take immediate action to address any non-compliance.