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A House built on sand

Here is another shocking discovery revealed by WASP's analysis of the river pollution scandal. You may have seen the story in the Times and Financial Times as well as the Oxford Mail.

With due respect for the builders of this wartime defence which remains intact despite being undermined by the river

Back in January, this stunning admission was made in a press release from the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra)

'water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades'

WASP has been investigating the Environment Agency’s annual Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) which, since 2011, has graded each water company using the following metrics:

  • reduction of pollution incidents and increasing company reporting of incidents

  • compliance with discharge permits for STW and WTW

  • completion of environmental improvement schemes

  • provision of secure supplies of water (‘security of supply’)

WASP’s review of more than 130 STWs has uncovered evidence that neither the self-monitoring of pollution incidents by water companies nor the checking of compliance with STW discharge permits by the Environment Agency (EA) are working. The data on which two of the four EPA metrics are based are flawed and inaccurate. The EPA is, in effect, a house built on sand.

The EPA has been a key component in the government’s financial management of the water industry and look where 32 years with the opportunities of private investment have led us. £60 billion of bill payers' money went to the shareholders and the country ended up with a sewage infrastructure that dumped more than 3.1 million hours of untreated sewage into our rivers and coastal waters in 2020 alone (we think it was much worse).

The report published today is WASP’s first exposé of flaws in the EPA analyses. It uses data provided by the EA and Thames Water to identify sewage works that are breaching EA permits and so not obeying the law. To operate legally is surely the most basic requirement that should be required and enforced.

The author of the WASP report, Professor Peter Hammond, says:

‘Most STWs that WASP considers show evidence of poor management or permit breaches, sometimes as far back as 2009 when Operator Self-Monitoring was introduced. This first report of WASP’s review offers strong evidence that our rivers are subject to illegal spills of sewage much more often than was previously thought.’

‘WASP reviews 100 times finer-grained data than the EA typically analyses’

‘WASP believes that 95% of illegal “dry” and “early” spills at Thames Water STWs may go unrecorded by the EA’

We have sent the report to Secretary of State, George Eustice who has the power to act to reverse the Defra policy which keeps pollution profitable. The letter that went with it is copied below.

Just this week, we have been shocked to see that even the beautiful clear Lake Windermere is turning green with algae and is battered by sewage pollution. We need action from our government right now.

The full report is available as a PDF at the end of the blog.

An for the people who want to dig deep into the full report, here is it is

Download PDF • 6.29MB



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