Ofwat, the water services regulation authority, is calling for more action to prevent storm overflow spills or sewage dumps in rivers, as part of a national inquiry into wastewater companies, including Anglian Water.
Ofwat, along with the Environment Agency, is investigating water and wastewater companies in England and Wales since November 2021, after reports of potentially illegal dumping of raw sewage by privatised organisations.
Among the companies under investigation is Anglian Water, covering the East of England, which was one of five companies to be handed formal notices to gather further information into the legalities of their full to flow treatment works.
The concerns are that a significant number of treatment works have not complied with environmental permits, which would be considered illegal dumping if found to be true.
Current rules state that water companies are allowed to self-report breaches of permits, allowing them to release raw sewage, but only in exceptional circumstances via storm overflows.
Enforcement action was opened in March 2022, with Anglian Water now making an “ambitious” pledge to commit to an £800 million environmental improvement programme between now and 2025.
As well as this, a commitment has been made to Ofwat by Anglian Water to keep storm overflows down to a 20 spill average per year by 2025, as well as ensuring storm overflows and sewage treatment works no longer harm rivers by 2030.
A study from the Rivers Trust last year analysed the number of sewer storm overflow spills there were in beds of water across the UK in 2020, finding 1,796 of these spills in Greater Lincolnshire alone.
An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “We will, of course, continue to support Ofwat with the information they request.
“We’ve been transparent throughout, and will work them to provide any additional explanation and evidence they need. We want the public to know they can trust Anglian Water, and that we take our environmental obligations very seriously.
“We’re already ahead of schedule delivering our £800m programme of environmental improvements between now and 2025, which is specifically targeted at areas where we know we can make a difference.”
Despite these plans and pledges, Ofwat says it will continue to review any information gathered in the investigation, as there are still “serious areas of concern” they would like answers for.
A spokesperson for Ofwat said: “This is helping us to build a picture of how these companies manage their compliance with their environmental obligations, both now and in the past. In addition, we are continuing analysis of wider datasets relevant to our investigation, such as data on storm overflow spills.
“We will be continuing our enforcement cases with the original five companies we had prioritised as there remain serious areas of concern that we want to understand more about, and/or where we want further assurance that things are being put right as quickly as possible.”
The investigation is ongoing.