EA report: in the South West, only one in every five rivers support a healthy ecology

“The bottom line is, England’s rivers are too polluted.” 

South West Water “is sitting on a £3bn cash pile, but directors say they intend to spend much of this on acquisitions.”

The world’s first live investigative documentary, Rivercide: “We will expose an astonishing record of filth and failure, leading to the transformation of rivers across the UK, in just a few years, from thriving ecosystems to open sewers.”

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The Environment Agency has just published its annual report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies:

Water and sewerage companies in England: environmental performance for 2020 – GOV.UK

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The government is not that impressed:

Progress made but too many water companies still falling short – GOV.UK

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Here’s how the Guardian reports the news today:

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Water industry in England failing on raw sewage pollution, Environment Agency finds

“Southern Water and South West Water both performed significantly below target for pollution … Southern Water for the second year in a row and South West Water for the 10th year in a row,” the Environment Agency said. “Both companies’ performances have been consistently unacceptable.” 

The impact of pollution from water companies can be seen in the poor quality of water in English rivers. Last year every river failed pollution tests. Pollution from raw sewage discharges by water companies directly into rivers, chemical discharges from industry and agricultural runoff are significant sources of pollution, according to the data.

Emma Howard Boyd, the chair of the Environment Agency, said on Tuesday: “The bottom line is, England’s rivers are too polluted.” 

Susan Davy, the chief executive of South West Water, said: “We are currently investing £150m in our largest environmental programme for 15 years, which includes a commitment to reduce pollution by 80% and additional storage protection measures to enhance our bathing waters. We know we can do more and are committed to doing so.”

Water industry in England failing on raw sewage pollution, Environment Agency finds | Environment | The Guardian

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George Monbiot has something to say on the matter:

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Why are England’s water companies pumping out a tide of sewage? Because they can

Last month, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, told a parliamentary inquiry that his organisation perceived “the overall performance of water companies is improving” and “serious pollution incidents” were falling. A few minutes later, however, he admitted that “over time there are, exactly as you said, greater volumes and greater frequency of spillage”.

How can he reconcile these positions? Well, since 2016, according to answers it has sent me, the Environment Agency’s monitoring budget has fallen by 55%. So it relies to an even greater extent on water company confessions…

As a paper in Nature shows, the evidence gaps are gigantic and the bias is all in one direction. “We’re seeing less pollution” doesn’t mean there’s less pollution. It means there’s less seeing. Bevan also agreed that court actions against polluters fell by 98% between 2002 and 2020. Law enforcement has been dying as quickly as our rivers.

But this is not the worst of it, because water companies, reckless as they may be, astonishingly are not the country’s biggest polluters. After a six-month investigation, with a team of independent film-makers led by the director Franny Armstrong, tomorrow we will be broadcasting the world’s first live investigative documentary, Rivercide. We will expose an astonishing record of filth and failure, leading to the transformation of rivers across the UK, in just a few years, from thriving ecosystems to open sewers. Livestreamed on YouTube, it will identify culprits and press for action

Why are England’s water companies pumping out a tide of sewage? Because they can | George Monbiot | The Guardian

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The investment industry is also not impressed:

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Pennon’s South West Water blasted for pollution failings for 10th year in a row

Water companies have a tendency to “reach for excuses rather than taking action to reduce serious pollution incidents to zero”, the report said

Pennon Group PLC’s (LON:PNN) South West Water arm has been cited by the UK Environmental Agency for again being one of the worst water performers in the sector for allowing raw sewage to spill into rivers and the sea. South West Water performed “significantly below target” for pollution for the 10th year in a row, the agency said in its annual assessment of the industry.

Pennon easily has enough money that it could use to upgrade its network to avoid having to pump sewage overspill into natural watercourses, having recently confirmed it is sitting on a £3bn cash pile, but directors say they intend to spend much of this on acquisitions.

Pennon Group PLC’s South West Water again falls short on pollution for 10th year in a row

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Much of this was covered on BBC Spotlight this evening:

BBC iPlayer – Spotlight – Evening News: 13/07/2021

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With the full coverage here:

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Cornwall sees highest number of water pollution incidents

… But over the last 11 years, Devon has seen a higher total number of incidents than its neighbouring county. Between March 2010 and 2021, Cornwall recorded 136 cases, compared to Devon’s 198…

But the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage says further action is needed. “These incidents are something we’re all too familiar with,” says chief executive Hugo Tagholm. “It’s a shocking indictment of how those habitats are being treated, so sadly we’re not surprised to see it because it’s the same old story from an industry that is making a lot of money and putting their profits quite often before the protection of the environment.”

Cornwall sees highest number of water pollution incidents – BBC News

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The programme also featured an interview with Dr Laurence Couldrick, the head of the WestCountry Rivers Trust:

 

Speaking out for our rivers

He spoke about how in the South West, only one in every five rivers support a healthy ecology saying “the bottom line is our rivers are just too polluted”.

There are lots of pollutants, but the biggest contributors are agricultural slurries and human sewage. The demand to produce cheap food has meant farmers don’t always have the margins to invest in slurry management.

And incorrectly putting wet wipes, fats, oils and greases down our toilets and sinks is an added burden the water system can’t cope with.

More robust regulation used to counter pollution but the amount of officers has reduced due to a halving by government over the last decade of the budget available. Recent increases in the Environment Agency funding should help, but it doesn’t restore enforcement to pre-2008 levels so these forms of pollution will continue.

Laurence added: “Ultimately, both water companies and farmers will need to do more to stop the pollution of our environment, but we have to play out part too. At the Trust, we work with the water company and farmers to help manage these risks as well as communities to reduce the pressure on the system.”

You can help monitor your local river by volunteering as a citizen scientist with our #WestcountryCSI project. Find out more at: wrt.org.uk/project/become-a-citizen-scientist/

Speaking out for our rivers | Westcountry Rivers Trust

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photo: What lies beneath? The River Sid, taken by Mary Walden-Till of the VGS

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The Sid Valley Biodiversity Group is working with the WRT on monitoring the Sid River:

The Sid Valley Rivers Project – Sid Valley Biodiversity Group

   
© Vision Group for Sidmouth 2005-2022