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South West Water Laws & Compliance

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SWW was one of two poorest performing companies at the start of the 2020-25 period. There is a live enforcement case against SWW (Ofwat & Environment Agency) for potential failures at sewage treatment works that may have led to sewage discharges into the environment. In 2022, South West Water reduced the number of pollution incidents by 28% but it failed to meet its own commitment level of 23 pollutionincidents per 10,000 km of sewer. The reported incidents were almost three times higher (61.93).

The SWW Environmental Performance rating affects the 2024 price review (PR24) which will set price controls for water and sewerage companies for 2025 to 2030. SWW business plan for 2025 to 2030 sets out how much they intend to spend providing their services over the five-year period, and the amount of revenue that they feel they should be permitted to earn as a result from customers from water and wastewater bills. Ofwat will publish its draft decisions on draft decisions on 11 July 2024. Consultation ends 28 Aug. Ofwat will hold two ‘Your water, your say’ meetings on 23 and 24 July to discuss and answer questions about Ofwat draft determinations.

Ofwat are holding a virtual meeting for English customers (Tues 23 July 2024, 2-4pm) to question the Price Review decision for SWW and the service companies provide, the impact on the environment, what will happen to water bills or any other topic that is important to customers. The meeting will have an independent chair to make sure they run smoothly and that there is time to get through as many key questions as possible in the available time. To attend this meeting, you must complete the registration form. Find the form on the link in the header.

South West water has published its Waste Water and Drainage Plans for the Kingsbridge - South Devon Area (May 2023). This covers their targets for the next 25 years.


Ofwat and the EA are currenty investigating all water companies, including SWW, to determine if they are operating illegally and not in complaince with their Discharge Permits. This is a serious issue which could result in criminal proceedings. This evidence has come to light recently because all water comoanies are now having to provide full reports on the hours of Combined Sewer Overspills with Event Duration Monitors. The Discharge Permits are based on the populations that need to be served by the sewage treatement and waste water treatment works. It takes into account the local rainfall levels and allows storm waters to be stored in a 'storm Tank". The Discharge Permit will normally allow the extra flows to be diverted to storm tanks (where the works has them), until the storm passes. The contents of these storm tanks can then be returned to be treated by the works. If the storm is prolonged or sustained, then the environmental permit will allow the water company to release the extra incoming rainwater and diluted wastewater into the environment, normally after partial treatment by settlement by storm tanks or through storm overflows into a river or sea. New information that some water companies have shared with the Environment Agency suggests that water companies may not have been treating the amount of wastewater they should do before diverting it to storm tanks and/or discharging it to the environment. If this is the case they will have broken the conditions of their environmental permits.

Serious pollution incidents (category 1 & 2) are monitored by Environment Agency. The criteria are defined in the section 'Impact on ecology (water)'. The level of pollution and the number of events recorded - translate into fines for water companies. It is argued by campaigners that the EA mandate for prosecution is weak and that these fines are not high enough and are simply absorbed as 'business expenses'. If the EA is no longer able to take samples of water quality at treatment works in monthly, unannounced visits, and have to sign into the treatment works before taking samples - this is a significant watering down of previous sampling proceedures. In 2022 the EA recommened that the Courts should impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents – although the amount a company can be fined for environmental crimes is unlimited, the fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a Chief Executive’s salary. Prison sentences for Chief Executives and Board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents Company directors struck off so they cannot simply move on in their careers after illegal environmental damage A Defra spokesperson said: This report shows that water companies are ignoring their legal responsibilities. Water company chiefs cannot continue to make huge profits whilst polluting our waters.

WINEP provides information to water companies on the actions they need to take to meet the environmental legislative requirements that apply to water companies in England. The ‘what’ of environmental water policy that needs to be delivered through the WINEP is determined by the UK government outside of the WINEP process. It is identified through UK legislation, and includes meeting the legally binding targets around water quality, quantity, and biodiversity set out in the Environment Act 2021.

The water industry strategic environmental requirements (WISER) sets out: issues and opportunities water companies should consider in meeting their environmental obligations how water companies should step up their level of ambition WISER describes the statutory and non-statutory expectations of water companies for price review 2024 (PR24) and expected practice. These are organised around the 3 objectives the Environment Agency and Natural England expect water companies to achieve: a thriving natural environment resilience for the environment and customers expected performance and compliance WISER, which should be read in conjunction with the WISER technical document, sets out the expected approaches water companies should follow during PR24 and beyond. The WISER technical document gives more detail on: best practice, providing an overview of emerging good practice water companies should consider in their business plans the expectations set out in the WISER the relevant legislation and duties

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