South West Water ordered to reduce sewer leakage

Environment Agency expects to see "significant improvements"

The Environment Agency has introduced a series of special measures for South West Water, after the firm reported spillage incidents more than three times the sector average.

South West Water had 115 incidents of spillage per 10,000km of sewer, compared to an industry average of just 34. The Environment Agency has said that the “spills caused pollution to rivers, fish kills, damage to ecosystems and pollution on beaches”.

“We are always ready to work hard with water companies to help them improve their systems, but we will not shy away from tough action against non-compliance when necessary – however uncomfortable that may be,” said Emma Howard Boyd, the Environment Agency chair.

The special measures involve additional scrutiny of the water company’s operations at both local and national level. This will include interim and annual performance reviews with the Environment Ageny’s director of operations—a measure yet to be used with other companies to date.

“We expect South West Water to make significant improvements to their environmental performance. They have not done enough to reduce pollution incidents and have repeatedly scored badly on this metric compared with other companies,” said a spokesperson for the Environment Agency.

In a statement, South West Water responded: “We continue to invest and innovate – for example, through using cutting-edge technology to monitor our sewerage network and purchasing a fleet of fully-equipped rapid response vehicles to enable staff to undertake sewer cleansing, surveying and reporting in one visit. This will help our response times and management of pollution incidents as we seek to drive numbers down.”

The measures are due to remain in place until South West Water shows improved environmental performance.

The Environment Agency has emphasised its commitment to taking action against companies who fail to comply with environmental permits—2016 saw several different fines following prosecutions, totalling just over £6.5 million.