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Update on Environment Agency Investigation

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Ofwat, Water

On 18 November 2021, the Environment Agency (EA) and Ofwat announced major investigations into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at wastewater treatment works.

The investigations were launched after companies revealed to us that they may be in breach of their permit conditions. This issue was brought to light following the EA’s requirement of companies to improve how they monitor and manage flow-to-full treatment at wastewater treatment works through the installation of new monitors.

The EA is currently driving a multi-million pound programme requiring water and sewerage companies to improve how they monitor and manage flows at wastewater treatment works – this will also introduce tighter permit conditions that will help us better regulate flow-to-full treatment processes.

The Flow to Full Treatment (FFT) investigation is likely to be the largest of its kind for the EA. This is a criminal regulatory investigation and as such must be conducted in accordance with criminal rules and procedures. The standard of proof in criminal proceedings is much higher, and complex, compared to Ofwat’s own regulatory investigation. The criminal investigation into all ten water companies is expected to take at least two years to complete.

More than 2200 sewage treatment works spanning all water and sewerage companies with wastewater treatment works that discharge into English waters are being scrutinised by EA experts. Our investigation team is working through hundreds of documents received from the Water companies – and we are expecting to analyse up to 2 billion data points. Our initial analysis of the information collected to date has confirmed that there may have been widespread and serious non-compliance with the relevant regulations.

Once we have completed our initial assessment, further investigative work will be needed to confirm whether breaches of permit have occurred, the level of culpability, the reason any breaches have occurred and what the impact of the breaches might have been on the environment. Any enforcement action will be taken in line with the EA’s Enforcement and Sanctions Policy depending on the nature and severity of any offence/s which come to light. Of course, prosecution isn’t the only possible outcome – we will look at all available enforcement options depending on what we find.

Whilst these investigations are complex and will take time to complete, they do not, and will not, impact our day-to-day regulation of the water industry. We are continuing to operate as normal –carrying out routine visits at sites we regulate and will take action when it is required.

While the investigation progresses, the EA, government and Ofwat are working closely together to ensure water and sewerage companies take immediate action where potential breaches of permit conditions are identified. It is the water and sewerage companies’ responsibility to bring their sites back within compliance as soon as possible and they will be held to this by the regulators.

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  1. Comment by David Munt posted on

    Could I ask why the public are not made aware of the net profit these water companies are making and just how much money is being paid to shareholders in dividends.
    The water Companies do have the ability through their profits, to put right this scandalous shameful degrading of our Rivers and endangering public Health.

    • Replies to David Munt>

      Comment by ROB MCINTOSH posted on

      I suggest you look at the various companies websites as they will normally have their latest audited accounts which will show their declared profits, dividends etc.

      • Replies to ROB MCINTOSH>

        Comment by David Munt posted on

        Apologies I have just picked this up?
        I think you have missed my point,you certainly didn’t answer it.
        Maybe I need to make it clearer, theses water companies make enough profit to build facilities to stop this pollution .
        Are you possibly a shareholder?

  2. Comment by Karen McMillan posted on

    This year due too increases in temperature
    The top soil has became hard so water cannot penetrate
    Why can’t ditches be dug around perimeters
    So any rainfall can be absorbed by soil
    Resulting in better absorption
    River beds could be regularly dredged
    So they could hold more water from future downpours

    • Replies to Karen McMillan>

      Comment by ROB MCINTOSH posted on

      I would imagine that several factors prevent this, land ownership, costs, the enormous scale of the works, availability of enough machinery and also the environmental costs by changing the landscape and the carbon footprint of the works

  3. Comment by Colin Gradwell posted on

    Lots of fine sounding words but no actual actions being taken to stop the shameful destruction of our waterways. So either the EA lacks the authority or the funding or the will to do anything. No other let's have some honesty for once...which of the three is it.


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