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Reality check

Last week , Robert Courts, MP for Witney, published an update on the Environment Agency investigation announced on 18th November, allegedly launched because several water companies had 'revealed' they may be discharging sewage illegally, it is claimed as a result of the threat of new monitoring that is not yet in place.

It seems that Mr Courts thinks there is a connection between the Environment Act and the metering devices that have allegely inspired the industry's admissions. There is not.

Clanfield - just one example of long term pollution to which the Environment Agency was turning a blind eye

Over the past two years, WASP has exposed illegal dumping of sewage at various sewage works in great detail in the media: BBC Panorama’s The River Pollution Scandal, George Monbiot’s Rivercide, ITV’s What’s in our Water and many articles in the Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Guardian and Times. WASP also revelealed that the Environment Agency was missing a huge number of apparently criminal pollution events and the water industry was not reporting them.

Of course this is hugely embarrassing for the regulators and government but exposing such issues in the media is the only way left to proceed when the Agency refuses to engage with campaigners in any meaningful way.

Suddenly, the government is rewriting history in what appears to be a cover-up of a scandalous failure of regulation.

Surely, rather than promoting this propaganda, MPs should be asking how on earth the leadership of the Environment Agency has failed to detect massive countrywide criminality that has been going on for years now being 'admitted' by companies that the Environment Agency refuses to identify.

Without a serious inquiry to find out how this was allowed to persist in plain sight, how can government avoid it happening again and how can it uncover and deal with the full extent of the scandal? Because there is more to come.

Let's cut through the hype of Mr Courts' message to this comment:

Taken together, the Act puts in place more protections against water pollution than ever before.

That is simply not true and we call on Mr Courts to set out precisely what those 'protections' are.

Before the Act came into force, it was illegal to dump untreated sewage other than in exceptional circumstances. This had to be reaffirmed in the European Court in 2012 as the government was trying to ignore it even then.

Prosecution of all or even just a reasonable percentage of the occasions on which the water industry broke the law would have made the activity financially damaging but instead, the ridiculously low number of Environment Agency prosecutions possible under government policy and the under-resourcing of the staff to do it made pollution a commercially desirable choice.

The law was there and it could have been applied effectively but now the Environment Act has brought in a raft of measures, without any structure - to measure, report and reduce impact. Remember this is an 'impact' that is very complex and variable and in most cases not identified, quantified or measured and which can and will be argued over for years, as it is now - to the detriment of people and the environment.

Many of you will recall that the Environment Agency persistently denied that there was even any evidence of sewage pollution in the River Windrush - a demonstrably false claim - and it continues to make false claims. We hope that some of the dedicated Agency staff who are being so badly let down by their leadership will stand up and expose some of what is going on.

Just one way that the Environment Agency misrepresents the reality. Healthy plants mainly gone but not according to the graph..

The Environment Act is deeply flawed. Instead of creating hard targets to stop pollution at source, it has given the water industry and the Environment Agency the ability in law to allow pollution, even illegal pollution, to continue indefinitely providing that some half baked assessments and claims of reduction are claimed.

If finally an impact of sufficient severity can be shown, the industry can then provide its own cost estimates and rely on the use of dubious cost-benefit calculations to show it is not worth the water company spending money on stopping pollution because, to put it simply - we, the people and wildlife on the receiving end of it are not worth damaging the industry's profit margin.

HOWEVER - don't despair. The people power that made the government, water companies and regulators sit up and start worrying about reputational damage is a powerful force but it relies on people being told the truth. This is why such great efforts are being made to manipulate the story and why WASP is providing the reality check.

We have seen the letter written by Mr Courts to Thames Water's CEO before the government has established any framework to the new provisions. If it has come down to individual MPs asking without any authority for water companies to reduce profit margins then regulation really is still a total shambles- and there is clear indication that indeed it is.

We are interested in seeing the letter written to Environment Agency CEO, Sir James Bevan and seeing the response if these documents will be made available.

The sewage pollution scandal is starting to unravel.


WASP has offered, and continues to offer, Mr Courts a conversation with WASP team members with extensive knowledge and information to help him understand and approach this complex issue effectively but we have had no response.

WASP continues to work with Thames Water on the Windrush Recovery project.



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