The government is planning to force water companies to issue annual reports disclosing how often they dump raw sewage in rivers. This has been a long-standing problem in connection with the Windrush.
It is also reported that ministers will announce proposals this year on how to eliminate the harm brought about by sewage pollution. It intends to introduce laws requiring an action plan to be produced by September 2022 followed by annual progress reports.
All rivers and lakes in England monitored have failed tests for chemical pollution and 84 per cent did not meet the government's target for good ecological status. Storm overflows, which take place to prevent sewage backing up into homes when heavy rain prevents sewers from working normally, led to untreated sewage being discharged into rivers 200,000 times in England in 2019. Figures just published show that in 2020 raw sewage spilt into rivers and the sea more than 400,000 times, representing three million hours of overflow.
Campaign groups have condemned the government's proposals as weak and inadequate. Ashley Smith of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP), said the water companies should be forced to invest in better sewage management to prevent spills and that they should face bigger penalties for discharges.
He said: "Much more immediate gains can be made by scrapping the Environment Agency's inadequate prosecution and sanctions policy which ignores most offences and is simply a charter to pollute for profit. Only by the regulator making it unprofitable to pollute will the industry change its approach and give us back clean rivers and seas, and this can start right now".
There has been much criticism of suppliers for redirecting their profits into low-tax jurisdictions and paying large salaries to their executives while the infrastructure decays. It is reported that the chief executives of the nine biggest water companies were paid more than £70 million between them over the last six years. That works out at an average of around £1.3m per year each.
In the financial year 2019/20 Thames Water made an underlying operating profit of £513.4 million.