According to the UK government’s Environmental Performance Report for 2021, English water companies oversaw shocking levels of pollution in a year where there were 1,677 sewerage incidents, where untreated effluent was released into rivers and coastal waters.
Effluent discharge into a river in the UKThere are nine water and sewerage companies operating in England that provide clean drinking water and waste water services, and the government regulates and works in partnership with them to ensure they meet environmental standards. However, there have been instances of water companies deliberately releasing sewage into rivers and inland waters during heavy rain, which can have a significant impact on the environment. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of water companies contaminating rivers and inland waters in this way, leading to fines and legal action.
For example, in 2019, Southern Water was fined a record £126 million for deliberately releasing billions of litres of sewage into the environment over a period of years, resulting in serious harm to the environment and public health. Similarly, in 2021, Thames Water was fined £4 million after pleading guilty to illegally discharging sewage into a river in Buckinghamshire, causing serious harm to the environment.
Evidence from River Action UK indicates that the unprecedented growth of poultry farms in the headwaters of the Wye River is contributing to the river’s deterioration. The organisation reports that there are currently 500 farms in the counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Powys, which are impacting the river’s health and causing harm to wildlife.
According to the River Action UK report, poultry farms have a significant impact on river water quality due to their high nutrient output, which increases the growth of algae and depletes oxygen levels, leading to the death of aquatic animals. The report states that the excess nutrients from poultry farms enter the Wye River via run-off from fields and can cause significant harm to both wildlife and people. The organisation is campaigning to raise awareness of the issue and encourage regulators to take action to prevent further harm to the river.
20 most polluted rivers in England and Wales and responsible water companies
River Severn – Severn Trent Water
River Calder – Yorkshire Water
River Aire – Yorkshire Water
Unknown – South West Water
River Derwent – Severn Trent Water
River Ouse – Yorkshire Water
River Tamar – South West Water
River Trent – Severn Trent Water
River Teifi – Dwr Cymru
River Eden – United Utilities
River Erewash – Severn Trent Water
River Usk – Dwr Cymru
River Irwell – United Utilities
River Wye – Dwr Cymru
River Don – Yorkshire Water
River Wharfe – Yorkshire Water
River Tawe – Dwr Cymru
Menai Strait – Dwr Cymru
River Rother – Southern Water
River Taf – Dwr Cymru
The Environment Agency (EA) has called for water company bosses to be jailed for serious pollution, as it revealed that English water companies oversaw shocking levels of pollution in the last year. A recent poll, cited by eastdevonwatch.org found that a majority of UK voters want water company bosses whose firms pollute rivers to be threatened with criminal prosecution.