Ofwat has imposed the biggest fine ever on a water company for "significant breaches of its licence conditions and its statutory duties." Southern Water has been fined £37.7m, but this has been reduced to £3m because the company has undertaken to pay customers some £123m over the next five years.
Ofwat states in its report:
“We have concluded that Southern Water has deliberately misreported data to us about the performance of its wastewater treatment works. We have also concluded that it has failed: to have adequate systems of planning, governance and internal controls in place to be able to manage its wastewater treatment works; to accurately report information about the performance of these works; and to properly carry out its general statutory duties as a sewerage undertaker, to make provision for effectually dealing with and treating wastewater.”
It is extremely frustrating that this financial penalty will only compensate Southern Water’s customers and does not include any funding to clean up the environmental damage that the company has quite obviously caused in both rivers and along the coastline.
Ofwat is only concerned about regulatory obligations over which it has authority, and this does not include scrutiny of Southern Water’s environmental permit failures or, indeed, whether its employees behaved criminally in covering up its woeful operating performance.
These issues are currently being dealt with by the Environment Agency, although the Ofwat report suggests that appalling practices were endemic throughout Southern Water’s structure “…including at senior management levels” including some designed “to prevent samples of wastewater from being taken at treatment works to check compliance with environmental permit conditions”.
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor for S&TC said:
“S&TC has been pursuing this matter, including through the Information Commissioner’s Office for some time now. Given what we now know, it is inconceivable that the Environment Agency will not prosecute Southern Water, and for multiple offences. We expect nothing less.
There must be no ‘deal’ made with Southern Water. Quite simply, the company set out to cheat the system, knowing that would harm the environment, and it must both pay for the environmental damage it has caused and be punished for what it has done.
The entire green lobby - and its lawyers - will be watching what happens now”.
S&TC has reported on Southern Water’s appalling environmental record before. Although we have no evidence of similar operating practices in other water companies, it is fanciful to think that they are all lily-white in their performance since privatisation. Some £55 billion has been paid to shareholders since privatisation, which would suggest the greatest driver for these companies is profit-sharing among investors rather than any serious sense of responsibility for environmental protection. The damage the water companies cause either from inadequately-treated sewage polluting our rivers or the impacts of excessive water abstraction from rivers and aquifers, is immense.
As we cannot trust water companies any more, the time has arrived to require independent monitoring of all water company’s sewage works and abstractions.
S&TC’s Head of Science and Policy, Dr Janina Gray, said:
“S&TC’s recently published Riverfly Census Report highlighted the parlous state of our Southern chalkstreams, which is the freshwater habitat most vulnerable to Southern Water’s operations. S&TC is now calling for full independent environmental monitoring of all water company operations in England. It is not an excuse to cite lack of resources for failing to comply with adequate monitoring – it should be a legal requirement for these companies to pay for independent monitoring; they can surely afford it!”
Paul Knight CEO of S&TC UK said:
“No-one can be so naïve as to think it is only Southern Water cheating like this at the expense of the environment. This is the direct result of years of cutting the regulator to the bone and relying instead on self-monitoring by polluters. It is time to reverse that trend and require independent monitoring of all large companies that can have such massive impact on the environment”.
William Hix, Chairman, Salmon & Trout Conservation commented:
“These are shocking revelations which make it difficult for the public to trust Southern Water’s treatment of the environment. It is the environment that has suffered as a result of this appalling behaviour, and if the fine is to be dramatically reduced because of undertakings given by Southern Water, then those undertakings should relate primarily to the environment rather than customers. OFWAT’s statutory duties and strategic priorities and objectives include the environment. The way in which this compromise arrangement with Southern Water essentially compensates customers (rather than the environment) for damage to the environment, reinforces the impression that OFWAT places little weight on the environment. If there is to be a massive reduction in the fine levied in response to undertakings, then those undertakings should relate to expenditure on protecting the environment. If trust in the environmental protection activity of Southern Water is to be restored, then an effective system of independent monitoring of Southern Water’s emissions to the environment must be put in place as a matter of urgency. Financing such a system, rather than refunding customers, would be the appropriate course to take in accordance with OFWAT’s and Southern Water’s duties to the environment and the nature of the failures.”
For more information and resources please visit: www.salmon-trout.org/
Notes to Editors
(1) Salmon and Trout Conservation
Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) was established as the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) in 1903 to address the damage done to our rivers by the polluting effects of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, S&TC has worked to protect fisheries, fish stocks and the wider aquatic environment for the public benefit. S&TC has charitable status in England, Wales and Scotland and its charitable objectives empower it to address all issues affecting fish and the aquatic environment, supported by robust evidence from its scientific network, and to take the widest possible remit in protecting salmonid fish stocks and the aquatic environment upon which they depend.
(2) The Riverfly Census
THE CENSUS PROCESS
The Riverfly Census utilises the invertebrate assemblage: presence, absence and abundance of certain invertebrates and the specific set of conditions they need to thrive, to indicate the types of stress our rivers are experiencing. This species-level resolution shows pressures which family-based Water Framework Directive (WFD) methods fail to capture.
The Riverfly Census has spanned three years, across 12 rivers in England. Multiple sample sites were carefully selected on each.
Kick-sweep sampling was completed in spring and autumn to EA-accepted guidelines, at all sample sites. Sampling and species-level identification were carried out by professional entomologists at Aquascience Consultancy Ltd.
Species data were inputted to Aquascience’s biometric calculator to obtain scores against key stress types: chemical, nutrient, sediment and flow. The data was then evaluated in a whole catchment context to pinpoint the likely suspects contributing to the river’s deterioration.
The data was compiled for, and is being reported to, local stakeholders and policy makers to improve management and conservation of our rivers.
Reporting with a purpose
S&TC are a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.
Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.
Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.