Water supplier fines ring-fenced for water quality projects
In 2021, water suppliers were handed a record amount in fines relating to pollution incidents around the country – and it has just been announced that this money will be funnelled back to help protect the environment and make water quality improvements in the nation’s waterways.
Since 2015, fines of more than £141 million have been secured following 56 prosecutions by the Environment Agency against water and sewerage companies.
Currently, these fines (and those imposed by Ofwat) are returned to the Treasury, but these new plans will see funds diverted to Defra instead, with the aim being to reinvest sums directly back into environmental improvement projects.
To help crack down on water pollution, the government has also increased Environment Agency funding, with £2.2 million set aside each year for water company enforcement activity, including some 4,000 farm visits each year and 500 sewerage inspections.
Potential improvement projects could include the creation of wetlands, reconnecting meanders to main river channels and revegetating river banks.
The government also recently announced plans to expand the use of and lift the cap on the civil variable monetary payments that can be issued by the Environment Agency, which means that sanctions can be imposed more often without having to go through a lengthy and expensive court case.
Rebecca Pow, water minister, commented on this latest development, saying: “The volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is unacceptable, and can cause significant harm to our wildlife and sensitive habitats.
“It is right that water companies are made to pay when they break the rules, but it is also right that this money is then channelled back into improving water quality.
“Water company fines reached a record level last year, and moving forward these plans will significantly increase funding that will be used to recover, protect and enhance our natural environment.”
This comes as new stats show that 97 per cent of bathing waters in England now meet the minimum required water quality standards – the highest it’s been since 2015. The results, released by the Environment Agency at the end of November, show that 72.1 per cent of inland waters and beaches meet the Excellent standard.
Bathing sites have been monitored by the agency since the 1990s, when just 28 per cent met the highest standards at the time. However, although progress has been made, more work is still required to ensure waters around the country are cleaner and healthier for people to enjoy.
To help further this goal, the agency has required water firms to install event duration monitors at bathing sites to capture data on the frequency and duration of storm overflow discharges.
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