UK to fine water companies releasing sewage into rivers

The UK Environment Agency (EA) and water regulator Ofwat have announced a major investigation into sewage treatment works, after several water companies admitted that they could be releasing illegal amounts of sewage into rivers and watercourses.

The investigation will investigate more than 2000 sewage treatment works and will fine or prosecute any company caught breaching their legal permits. The fines could amount to 10% of annual turnover for civil cases, or be unlimited in criminal proceedings, according to the EA.

Several water companies revealed that many of their sewage treatment works may be failing to meet current requirements after the EA asked companies to install new monitors at sewage treatment works.

The monitors check the right levels of wastewater are being treated before overflows are allowed to enter rivers or coastal waters.

However, many have admitted that they have been releasing wastewater directly into rivers, watercourses and the sea during heavy rain or storms to stop pipes becoming overloaded.

The investigation has been launched to look into all water and sewerage companies to assess the scale of the problem.

The EA and Ofwat have been pressing water companies to meet higher standards to protect the environment, and the government has previously said the amount of sewage discharged into waterways by water companies is unacceptable.

Emma Howard-Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: "Any water companies in breach of their permits are acting illegally. This is a major issue of public trust. Water company boards must certify every year that they have adequate resources to fulfil their regulated activities. 

"Only now, just before new monitors are installed, have companies reported concerns due to potential problems. The EA has begun an immediate investigation of more than 2,000 sewage treatment works and will prosecute where necessary.

"The private sector is under increasing pressure to demonstrate tangible commitments on protecting the environment. This shows why we need robust and well-funded regulation to provide the public, investors and customers with assurances about what is being delivered on the ground."

The EA is calling for the levels of penalties for corporate environmental crime in England go up "significantly".


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