Latest annual Environmental Performance Assessment show some modest improvements in water companies’ performance.
- Yorkshire Water rated 3 star, an increase from its 2 star rating in 2021
- Environment Agency sets out plans for bigger specialised workforce and more data-driven work
- Government introduces new law for unlimited penalties.
The Environment Agency has released its annual report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies.
The report shows some modest improvements to water company star ratings under the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) report in 2022, compared to 2021 .
Measured against the Environment Agency’s 4-star rating, four companies have stayed the same, three have improved and two have got worse.
- Severn Trent Water – 4 stars, the same as the previous year
- Northumbrian Water – 3 stars, down from 4 stars
- United Utilities – 3 stars, down from 4 stars
- Yorkshire Water – 3 stars, up from 2 stars
- Anglian Water – 2 stars, the same as the previous year
- Thames Water – 2 stars, the same as the previous year
- Wessex Water – 2 stars, the same as the previous year
- Southern Water – 2 stars, up from 1 star
- South West Water – 2 stars, up from 1 star
Since 2011, the Environment Agency has used the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) to rate each company in England from 1 star to 4 star. The rating takes into account performance on environmental commitments such as pollution incidents and treatment work compliance. Last year an updated reporting approach was introduced, with revised metrics and tightened performance thresholds.
Andrew Jones MP said:
These are important assessments by the Environment Agency and it was good to see, amid what sometimes seems to be only bad news surrounding water companies, that Yorkshire Water is one of three that are improving.
It is clear that there are further improvements that can be made by the company and I look forward to discussing their plans for doing this.
Despite that we should acknowledge an improving situation, welcome Yorkshire Water’s commitment to work with me, local businesses and our community to improving water quality in the River Nidd and encourage them to make further improvements in key areas of their business rapidly.
Commenting Tom Gordon, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesperson for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said:
While I welcome the improvement of Yorkshire Water’s star rating, there were still three serious pollution incidents.
They are classified as such because they have a serious, extensive or persistent impact on our environment, people or property. Three in a year is still three too many.
There is a serious amount of work to do to improve water quality and undo some of the damage done not just to our rivers but to the public’s confidence in water companies.
Last month, Tom and the Harrogate and Knaresborough Liberal Democrats called for Yorkshire water to be turned into a public benefit company, one that puts people’s priorities first and delivers for the environment.
It comes as the Liberal Democrats in Parliament tabled a Bill calling on another failing water company, Thames Water, to be reformed from top to bottom. The call would transform the firm into a “Public Good Company.
This year’s report has found that:
- The number of serious pollution incidents has reduced from 62 in 2021 to 44 in 2022 but remains unacceptably high.
- More than half of serious pollution incidents were from assets of Anglian Water and Thames Water – EA have taken enforcement action against both companies.
- Total pollution incidents were similar to 2021 and remain too high.
- Incident self-reporting was at 82% – the best since the start of the EPA in 2011.
- However, this contrasts to self-reporting on serious incidents which was only 48%.
The results show that although there have been some improvements, all water companies need to go further and faster.
In Yorkshire, Yorkshire Water was rated a 3 star company in 2022, an increase from it’s 2 star rating in 2021.
It had three serious pollution incidents in 2022 compared to five in 2021, moving this metric from red to amber – an improvement but still below target. It also had 22 total pollution incidents per 10,000km of sewer, down from 27 in 2021 and better than the sector average of 31.
The company self-reported 77% of incidents, below the industry average of 82% but an improvement on it’s 2021 performance of 66%.
The Environment Agency expects to see sustained improvements around reducing pollution incidents across Yorkshire and Yorkshire Water’s timeliness in reporting them.
Elsewhere, the company scored 99.7% for permit compliance, delivered 100% of its schemes under the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP), delivering the required 179 projects to improve the environment. It was green in the other metrics for satisfactory sludge use and disposal and water supply and demand.
The report comes as the government today published new law to allow the Environment Agency’s to impose unlimited civil sanctions on water companies for environmental offences. It means it will be quicker and easier for penalties to be imposed, although the most serious cases will still be taken through criminal proceedings.
Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said:
Regulators, water companies, government, eNGOs and many others all want the same thing: better environmental outcomes, including cleaner rivers and seas. We need to work together and take collective responsibility to achieve it.
While there have been some modest improvements, it is unacceptable to still be seeing this level of pollution. We have seen a distinct culture shift from the water industry in recent months and that is welcome – but that must translate to profound, long-term change.
The Environment Agency will play its part by transforming the way we regulate the sector. We welcome this week’s announcement on unlimited penalties which will also improve our enforcement powers.
Claire Barrow, Area Environment Manager for the Environment Agency in Yorkshire, said:
While it’s encouraging that Yorkshire Water has seen some progress, there is still significant work to be done to improve standards.
We want to see a consistent reduction in the number of pollution incidents and a sustained improvement in the timeliness and quality of self-reporting.
That is why we will continue our rigorous enforcement activity across Yorkshire and we welcome the Environment Agency’s new powers to issue unlimited penalties when companies commit environmental offences and do not meet the high standards that the public rightly expect.
The Environment Agency has also set out how it will:
- Create a bigger specialised workforce to focus solely on water company regulation. By autumn this year nearly 100 officers will be trained in carrying out more detailed audits of water companies to quickly identify issues and put improvement actions in place.
- Significantly increase compliance checks for every company – making sure they are sticking to the permits agreed with the Environment Agency.
- Recruit more data specialists to make better use of analytics and technology.
- Transform huge quantities of monitoring data into stronger regulatory intelligence. That includes using data-driven analytics to map monitoring data against rainfall to detect potential dry weather operation of storm overflows – known as ‘dry spills’. It means the Environment Agency can quickly direct new specialist officers to any sites at risk and stop it happening.
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:
Today’s report shows there is significant work to do to drive the improvements in our rivers and seas that we need to see.
The government’s Plan for Water is focused on more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement than ever before. I am personally committed to driving that forward and demanding more from each and every water company.
We have also put new regulatory powers in place to allow the Environment Agency to impose sanctions on water companies without always going through the courts. This will be an important tool in its armoury to hold companies to account.
Since 2015 the Environment Agency’s prosecutions against water companies have secured fines of over £150 million. In 2022 the Environment Agency concluded nine prosecutions against water and sewerage companies with fines of more than £4 million.