UK water pollution incidents still ‘unacceptably high’, says report

A report says the UK's water pollution is still high.

A report says the UK’s water pollution is still high.

Getty Images/ Roman Novitskii

Britain had fewer serious water pollution incidents in 2022 than in the previous year but the number remains “unacceptably high”, the government’s Environment Agency said in its annual report published on Wednesday.

Water companies in Britain have been facing overwhelming criticism over raw sewage releases which have led to the poor quality of rivers and beaches, while large payouts made to their shareholders have also stoked public anger.

“While there have been some modest improvements, it is unacceptable to still be seeing this level of pollution,” Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said.

“We have seen a distinct culture shift from the water industry in recent months and that is welcome – but that must translate to profound, long-term change.”

Serious pollution incidents fell from 62 in 2021 to 44 last year, with more than half coming from the assets of Thames Water and Anglian Water, both of which have faced fines from the agency, the report said.

However, total pollution incidents from sewerage and water supply assets climbed to 2 026 last year, the highest since 2019.

Thames Water, which has also been dealing with a debt crisis, recognises that its efforts in preventing pollution incidents are “still not good enough”, a spokesperson for Britain’s largest water supplier said.

“We have plans to upgrade over 250 of our sewage treatment works and are striving every day to reduce the discharge of untreated sewage into our rivers,” the spokesperson said.

An Anglian Water spokesperson said the company “fully” accepts its performance must improve and is focused on implementing its pollution incident reduction plan.

Earlier on Wednesday, the government said it would remove the current 250 000 pound ($324 875) limit on fines that can be issued to polluters, in changes that would allow environmental regulators to impose enforcement measures more quickly and at a lower cost.

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