The annual report on the Water industry has just come out and it's not good. However, as all of the usual gloss and spin is applied to the press releases, the wake of Southern Water's £90 million fine washes over it and it starts to smell.
The judge's comment that the extensive criminal conduct at Southern Water must have been sanctioned at the board of directors level illustrates what WASP has been saying for a long time; using pollution is how some of the companies remain profitable (not Welsh Water which is non-profit) and it now seems that criminal pollution, not the emergency measures we were told were there to stop our homes from flooding, is commonplace.
The remarkable groundbreaking analysis by Professor Peter Hammond has led WASP's campaign and we are still amazed and disgusted by the levels of pollution that have been revealed yet still allowed to persist.
How on earth can a company like Thames Water be given a 'good' rating in the same year it was fined £2.3million for serious pollution at Henley about five years ago (for this is how long the Agency takes to get cases through court) and is under investigation for an unknown number of similar offences continuing since then, some reported in 2020 and 2021.
Evidence of long terms sewage dumping and failure has been made available to the Environment Agency but it seems to have decided to ignore it in the Thames Water assessment. This is a company with 180 previous criminal convictions (according to the EA) which were gained in a system where the Environment Agency is allowed to prosecute only a few examples and has to let the rest go unchecked. Our own Department for the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs dictates the policy that has made pollution the activity of choice for an industry that fails to invest enough even to make its activities legal, in many cases.
All of the parties have skeletons in this particular closet and all have an interest in covering their backs. Ofwat, the industry, Environment Agency and Defra are happy to parade the Environmental Performance Assessment as some kind of professional review of progress and performance but it is built on data and assessments that WASP will unravel and show to be flawed and misleading over the next few weeks.
Here is a sample. Pollutions are categorised and recorded according to severity so that we can be shown how the industry and Agency have reduced them. However, these assessments are often made on no more than the information and data provided by the water industry and its consultants and recording an event as category 3 or minimal impact will mean that the already overstretched Environment Agency will not have to attend. You can see where this is going..
Here is just one example where we believe the evidence does not stack up. In February, WASP was alerted to a burst sewer main at Ducklington near the allotments. We didn't expect to find much but were shocked to find a stinking mass of sewage sludge and liquid covering the edge of arable land and woodland and running into a ditch over about 5000 square metres. The home to mammals, birds, insects and the whole works of wildlife was devastated.
Eventually, it was fixed and we waited for the paperwork to be submitted, suspecting that the incident would be effectively covered up. Sure enough, it is recorded as category 4 or 'no environmental impact' to land and 'minimal impact' to water and, by the way, the Environment Agency did not attend the scene.
A severe dose of honesty and transparency has o be applied to this murky business in which the regulators are wrapped up in the deception being fed to the public. Watch this space.