Regulator launches probe into South West Water amid ‘concerns’ over how it run its sewage treatment works
- Ofwat launched a probe into the wastwater company over sewage ‘concerns’
- South West Water was previously fined for sewage spills at a beach in Devon
- The government promised to ‘revolutionise’ how companies tackle sewage leaks
South West Water has become the latest company targeted in an Ofwat investigation into suppliers’ environmental performance and sewage treatment works.
The wastewater company is being probed by the watchdog to see how they manage their treatment works amid a crackdown on overflow spills across the country.
In March of this year, the regulator said it had serious concerns over the sewage treatment works of five water suppliers – Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water.
David Black, Ofwat chief executive, said: ‘As we gather and analyse more information, including data on storm overflow spills, our concerns have grown further about South West Water’s operation of its wastewater assets and environmental performance.
South West Water will be investigated by Ofwat over how the wastewater company manage their treatment works. Shares in South West Water owner Pennon fell 7% on Tuesday morning after the Ofwat announcement
Mike Keil, senior director of policy, research and campaigns at the Consumer Council for Water called on all six companies to ‘urgently act’ to fix any harm they might have caused (stock image of sewage pipe)
‘As a result, we have opened an additional enforcement case into South West Water.’
Shares in South West Water owner Pennon fell 7% on Tuesday morning after the Ofwat announcement.
Pennon said: ‘We will continue to work openly and constructively with Ofwat to comply with the formal notice issued to South West Water as part of this ongoing investigation.’
Wastewater assets are the physical components of wastewater systems, they include pipes, manholes, pumps and storage tanks.
Mr Black added: ‘We have now opened enforcement cases against the majority of wastewater companies in England and Wales.
‘From what we have seen so far, the scale of the issue here is shocking – companies must resolve any problems at wastewater treatment works and do so quickly.’
Ofwat said that the companies in focus may change as developments are made and it will be writing to the remaining wastewater companies to ‘request updates on the progress of remediation plans they submitted to Ofwat in December’.
Mike Keil, senior director of policy, research and campaigns at the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) – which calls itself the voice for water consumers in England and Wales, called on all six companies to ‘urgently act’ to fix any harm they might have caused.
‘It’s a betrayal of customers’ trust and expectations if a sewerage company fails to comply with its basic duties and puts at risk the health of rivers and habitats for wildlife that the majority of people have told us they want to see improved – not undermined,’ he said.
‘All six of the companies facing the threat of enforcement action should now urgently act to ensure they are complying with their responsibilities and fixing any harm that might have been caused.’
South West Water has previously been fined for sewage spills, including one period of time in which it was fined after a repeat sewage spill at South Sands Beach in Devon.
This map from The Rivers Trust shows where sewage entered local rivers in 2021. The trust advises people to avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges and avoid the overflows (brown circles), especially after it has been raining
Growing concerns about South West Water’s operation of its wastewater assets and environmental performance has lead to the probe (stock image)
Sewage leaked from a manhole at South Sands Beach in 2012 and again during the Easter bank holiday in 2017.
The company had to pay more than £60,000 because it failed to follow warnings from the Environment Agency from 2012.
Earlier this year, it was reported that water companies will be forced to eliminate the harm caused by the release of sewage into the environment.
The Government has promised to ‘revolutionise’ how companies tackle thousands of cases of untreated sewage being leaked every year.
This is expected to lead to 70 per cent fewer discharges into bathing water by 2035 and a reduction of 160,000 discharge incidents by 2040.
The proposals in the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, which will be laid before Parliament in September, follow dozens of Environment Agency prosecutions brought against water firms since 2015.
Southern Water was hit with a record £90million fine last year.
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