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Water companies could face legal action from sewage treatment works

The Environment Agency and Ofwat have launched a major investigation into sewage treatment works. 

This follows new checks which led water companies to admit that they could be releasing unpermitted sewage discharges into rivers and watercourses. 

The investigation will involve more than 2000 sewage treatment works. Any company caught breaching their legal permits could face enforcement action, including fines or prosecutions. 

Fines can be up to 10% of annual turnover for civil cases, or unlimited in criminal proceedings. 

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: ‘Any water companies in breach of their permits are acting illegally. This is a major issue of public trust.

‘Water company boards must certify every year that they have adequate resources to fulfil their regulated activities. Only now, just before new monitors are installed, have companies reported concerns over potential problems. The EA has begun an immediate investigation of more than 2,000 sewage treatment works and will prosecute where necessary.

‘The private sector is under increasing pressure to demonstrate tangible commitments on protecting the environment. This shows why we need robust and well-funded regulation to provide the public, investors and customers with assurances about what is being delivered on the ground.

‘I would like to see the levels of penalties for corporate environmental crime in England go up significantly. More attention should also be paid to the directors of companies that are guilty of repeated, deliberate or reckless breaches of environmental law. Such directors should be struck off and in the most grievous cases given custodial sentences.’

Through the Environment Act, the government has introduced clear new duties to legally require water companies to make progressive reductions in the adverse impacts of storm overflows.

Any water companies not abiding by their permits are also expected to take immediate action to urgently address any non-compliance while these investigations are ongoing.

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