Thank you for contacting me about the petition on change.org regarding the management of our rivers.
I work closely with the Environment Agency as well as local wildlife and conservation groups because I am concerned about our environment and I understand the concerns people have. The EA do undertake extensive monitoring of our rivers, and there is a body of historical data which shows how the health of the Meon, Test and Itchen have actually improved over the last ten years.
I agree that we must reduce the abstraction of water from rivers and aquifers and I welcome the investment of Southern Water and Portsmouth Water in a new reservoir in our area. We all still need to improve our own water efficiency and reduce our waste of clean water.
The continued discharge of untreated stormwater into rivers is completely unacceptable. I have held public meetings in Meon Valley with Southern Water present as well as the Environment Agency and local environmental groups. They have been very valuable both to the public in making their views known and for SW in setting out what they are doing. I think it is absolutely right that they are held to account.
The Government’s Plan for Water, published earlier this year, sets out more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement to tackle every source of pollution.
As part of the plan, over £2.2 billion of investment has been accelerated. This will be directed into vital infrastructure to improve water quality and secure future supplies, with £1.7 billion of this to tackle storm overflows. Ministers have set stringent targets for water companies to reduce storm overflows, ordering the largest infrastructure programme in water company history of £60 billion. This is a credible plan which prioritises bathing waters and the Meon Valley’s chalk streams.
Monitoring of storm overflows has increased substantially, from only 7 per cent in 2010 to 91 per cent now, and companies are on track to reach 100 per cent by the end of the year. It is precisely because of this monitoring that action can be taken to fix storm overflows and hold water companies to account.
The Environment Act this government passed in 2021 gives Ofwat increased powers to penalise water companies for poor performance.
In July, Ministers removed the cap on penalties environmental regulators can issue water companies as well as applying penalties to a much wider range of offences. This will ensure that regulators have the right tools to enforce the rules. Fines from water companies are being reinvested into the new Water Restoration Fund, which will support local groups and community-led schemes protecting our waterways. Southern Water were given a record £90m fine for their poor past performance and will be rebating consumers for another two years. Both these things are being funded by shareholders in the company.
The Environment Agency has launched the largest criminal investigation into unpermitted water company sewage discharges ever at over 2,200 treatment works. Its funding for inspections increased for 2022/23 to £96 million from £56 million in 2020/21.
I will continue to urge Ministers to make further improvements. Our bathing waters continue to improve, with 93 per cent classified as good or excellent in 2022 compared to 76 per cent in 2010. There is now 80 per cent less phosphorus and 85 per cent less ammonia in our rivers compared to 1990 when water was privatised. These are two key chemicals and we will continue to eliminate other remaining pollutants in our river water.