The Environment Agency has named Southern Water, alongside South West Water, as having the worst environmental performance as part of an annual report – describing it as ‘consistently unacceptable.’
It also found that none of the nine English water and sewerage companies had achieved all the environmental expectations set out for them for 2015 to 2020, and warned there are still too many serious pollution incidents.
Environment Agency chairwoman Emma Howard Boyd said: ‘Over half the water sector is now achieving the highest industry rating, showing that clear targets and regulatory focus combined with investment in the environment delivers change in the water sector.
‘But, some companies are still failing in their duty to the environment and there remains a tendency to reach for excuses rather than grasp the nettle.’
The report said the sector coped well with the pandemic and water companies have committed more than £850m of new investment to contribute to a green recovery.
However, the Environment Agency warned England’s rivers were too polluted and said water companies still needed to make and sustain substantial improvements in their environmental performance.
Serious pollution incidents remain too high, it said, with 44 serious pollution incidents, which can cause major or significant environmental harm to surface water or groundwater, in 2020.
That is the lowest number in the records since 2005, and an improvement on 52 in 2019 and 56 in 2018.
But it falls well short of at least a 50 per cent reduction compared to the 60 serious incidents in 2012, with a trend towards zero over the period 2015-2020, which companies were expected to deliver.
Ms Howard Boyd added: ‘I have been meeting water company chairs in the last few weeks to set out our expectations for them to redouble their efforts to improve or maintain their environmental performance, something which continues to be a priority for both customers and shareholders.’
As reported, Southern Water was fined a record £90m last week for 6,971 unpermitted sewage discharges, with tonnes of sewage polluting rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex between 2010 and 2015.
The report also said that while the total number of water quality pollution incidents across the country, including minor as well as major ones, was 285 fewer than the “unacceptable performance” of 2019, it was still the second highest since 2015.
There were 1,919 incidents in total, and the sector as a whole narrowly failed to meet the target to cut the number of pollution incidents by a third on 2012 levels, with a 31% reduction in 2020.