South West Water worst

Today the Environment Agency (EA) released its annual review of Water Company performance on pollution. South West Water (along with Southern Water) was ranked the worst of UK water companies. The EA use a traffic light system with red for the worst performance and Green for the best. The companies are assessed against a series of pollution targets.

Companies are assessed for:

  • Total pollution incidents (sewerage) – per 10,000km of sewer
  • Serious pollution incidents (sewerage and water supply assets)
  • Self-reporting of pollution incidents
  • Discharge permit compliance
  • Supply Demand Balance Index for water

Each company is assessed against these targets and then given a star rating from 1 to 4. South West, one of two water companies that serve Somerset, was given a 1 star rating. South West Water was graded red in every assessed category except one. The only category they were not graded red for, was “Self-reporting of pollution incidents“. Which in itself begs a question or two.

This will not come as a massive surprise to readers of The Leveller. In our December edition we reported on the sewage outflows (storm flows). Both in the Somerset area in general and the Levels in particular. In some cases, storm outflows were pouring sewage into our rivers for 100 days a year.

Wessex Water are the other water company serving Somerset. They performed a little better. They were awarded 2 stars out of four. There assessments were generally much better than South West. However although they were only “red” in one category, that was for serious pollution incidents. So no room for complacency there.

The EA is now calling for tougher measures. In their report they say “The water companies will only stop behaving like this if they are forced to. The amount a company can be fined for environmental crimes is unlimited, but fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a Chief Executive’s salary. We need courts to impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents. The threat of significant impending financial penalties has an impact. Investors should no longer see England’s water monopolies as a one-way bet.”

In fact they are now going further: “We would like to see prison sentences for Chief Executives and Board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents. We would also like to see company directors being struck off so they cannot simply delete illegal environmental damage from their CV and move on to their next role.”

This then is the legacy of Rebecca Pow’s time as Minister at the Department of the Environment.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the EA is a little more in touch with the reality on the ground. She says “Water companies exist to serve the public. Their environmental performance is a breach of trust. The polluter must pay.


  • It is so infuriating when we are fully aware of what polluting man is doing to the environment that instead of improving water treatment we are actually making it worse DELIBERATELY. I fully agree with handing out prison sentences to the senior directors. Perhaps we get improvements from a new PM although I’ll not hold my breath. Maybe it needs a new type of government.

  • This is appalling. Profiteering from our water system with no sense of obligation to the environment, clearly indicates the folly of privatising it. Local MPs need to demand higher standards and bigger fines.

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