English water companies warned to clean up their act following unacceptable performance reports


The Environment Agency has today released its annual performance assessments for English water companies, finding overall performance to be ‘simply unacceptable’.

Serious warnings to the water companies causing damage to rivers, wildlife, beaches and bathers has been issued in the latest annual performance assessments today.

Water companies failed to meet overall pollution incident targets in 2018. Photo: Andy Hughes.


In the report’s foreword, Emma Howard Boyd, EA chair said:

“Performance in 2018 was simply unacceptable … rather than improving, the performance of most companies has deteriorated, reversing the trend of gradual improvement since we introduced the environmental performance assessment in 2011.”

Southern Water and Yorkshire Water, in particular, were identified for their poor performance and unacceptable levels of ‘serious pollution incidents’. These include events which cause either serious extensive or persistent impacts on the environment, people or property, and may, for example, result in a large number of fish deaths. The number of serious pollution incidents across England also rose from 52 to 56.

South West Water also shared the two star “unacceptable level of performance” rating, showing no improvement from 2017, due to its excessive number of total pollution incidents which were significantly worse than targeted.

Northumbrian Water was the only one of the nine companies which managed to achieve the expected four-star level of performance during the assessment period, and is one of the few companies leading the way in providing year-round data to the Safer Seas Service. SAS is calling for all water companies to provide year-round combined sewer overflow alerts by 2020, allowing water users to make informed decisions on whether it’s safe to us the water.

The report also highlighted that most companies look set to miss the Environment Agency’s 2020 pollution targets.

The findings follow Surfers Against Sewage’s release of sewage spill data from the Safer Seas Service last week, which highlighted the failures of water companies to prevent pollution of bathing waters already during the 2019 season, with Southern Water performing particularly poorly – prompting action from regional SAS reps.

Surfers Against Sewage’s Brighton regional reps group at Paddle Round the Pier 2019, protesting against Southern Waters deliberate misreporting of its wastewater practices. Photo: Andrew Riley


Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage said:

“Water companies must put the health of the planet before their profits. Today’s damning report shows just how poorly most of England’s water companies are performing, presiding in a regime of wilful pollution, poor planning and a lack of investment. Protecting our rivers, ocean and natural water supplies is non-negotiable – they are crucial to the health of communities. Water companies must do much better than this.

Through the #GenerationSea campaign, Surfers Against Sewage is calling for robust legislation to protect UK water quality standards through Brexit, and a strong, independent watchdog to regulate water company performance and hold companies accountable for pollution offences.

In addition, the Ocean Conservation All-Party Parliamentary Group for which SAS are the secretariat, is pushing for new legislation led by Scott Mann MP to enable regulators to fine and hold water companies accountable for combined sewer overflows.

Surfers Against Sewage is urging supporters to contact their local MP, calling for them to pledge their support for #GenerationSea – protecting our oceans from sewage, plastic pollution, global heating and over-exploitation by fisheries. Alongside this, our Safer Seas Service should be utilised to stay informed with real-time sewage spill alerts and water quality information.

Infographic of the key assessment findings. Source: Environment Agency.


Full report available here.