Water pollution

Thank you for your email on water pollution.

We have now gone further than the previous EU regulations with our Environment Act and Plan for Water. You can find out more about them here: [http://New%20legally%20binding%20environment%20targets%20set%20out%20-%20GOV.UK%20(www.gov.uk)]New legally binding environment targets set out - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) and here: Our Integrated Plan for Delivering Clean and Plentiful Water (publishing.service.gov.uk)
We have been clear that the sewage discharged into our waters is completely unacceptable and water companies need to clean up their act fast.  We are already taking tough action to hold them to account, including consulting on a ban on water bosses’ bonuses when criminal breaches have occurred, record levels of fast-tracked investment, making sure 100% monitoring of storm overflows and quadrupling water company inspections. This is in addition to the stringent targets in place for water companies to reduce sewage spills - frontloading action at bathing waters to make the biggest difference to these sites as quickly as possible.
Water companies must not profit from environmental damage. Water company bosses are set to be banned from receiving a bonus if their company has committed serious criminal breaches, subject to an Ofwat consultation.    

We have also scrapped the cap on civil penalties and significantly broadened their scope to target a much wider range of offences. This is toughening our enforcement tools and expanding where regulators can use them. This will deliver a proportionate punishment for operators that breach their permits and harm our rivers, seas and precious habitats.

Since 2015, the Environment Agency has concluded 60 prosecutions, securing record fines of over £150 million against water companies. The Environment Agency are also conducting the largest criminal investigation into unpermitted water company sewage discharges ever at over 2,200 treatment works.

Water company inspections will more than quadruple under plans announced in February. Water company inspections carried out by the EA will rise to 4000 a year by the end of March 2025, and then to 10,000 from April 2026. This will include an increase in unannounced inspections – strengthening oversight of water companies and providing greater assurance alongside operator self-monitoring. More information on the increase in inspections: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/inspection-surge-to-crack-down-on-water-sector-pollution  

We are fast-tracking water company investment of £180m over the next 12 months, expected to prevent more than 8000 sewage spills polluting English waterways. 100% of storm overflows are now fitted with Event Duration Monitors to increase transparency by measuring how, when and for how long a storm overflow is in operation. Increased protections for coastal and estuarine waters by expanding the Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan, prioritising bathing waters, sites of special scientific interest and shellfish waters.

We are speeding up the process of building key water supply infrastructure, including more reservoirs and water transfer schemes.
Requiring the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £60 billion over 25 years – to revamp aging assets and reduce the number of sewage spills by hundreds of thousands every year.

The government is reviewing the Bathing Water Regulations 2013 to ensure they reflect changes in how and where people use bathing waters and there has been a recent bathing water consultation for dozens of new sites. Last year, 96% of our 424 bathing waters met minimum standards with 90% now ranked as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ – up from just 28% in the 1990s.  The EA advice has always been for people to swim in one of the beaches, lakes or rivers that make up our 424 bathing water spots across the country. Official bathing waters are monitored by the Environment Agency for sources of pollution known to be a risk to bathers’ health, with up to 20 samples taken from each site during the bathing season. Each sample is tested for bacteria, specifically E coli and intestinal enterococci. Information on all 424 designated bathing water sites and any forecasted drops in water quality will be published on the Swimfo: Find a Bathing Water website. Bathing water quality (data.gov.uk). This provides immediate access to information on every bathing water in England.