Anglian Water declines to answer serious questions on deliberately dumping sewage into East Anglia’s rivers.
The Water Regulator, Ofwat, has begun enforcement proceedings against Anglia Water and four other water companies for illegally discharging raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters.
Since 2010, water companies have been required to report on the operation of their treatment works and potential pollution discharges. However, recent damning evidence suggested that raw sewage discharge could be more than ten times the level reported by the companies.
Investigation into possible illegal dumping
In 2020, it was revealed that water companies had discharged raw sewage into rivers more than 200,000 times the previous year. After public pressure, Ofwat and the Environment Agency announced an investigation into possible illegal dumping.
In 2021, Southern Water was fined a record £90 million, for discharging billions of litres of raw sewage into coastal waters off Kent and Hampshire over a five-year period.
As investigations went further, fears grew that there may be serious shortcomings in the way that companies run their treatment works. It seemed that not only were many possibly not meeting environmental rules, but nor were they taking their environmental obligations seriously.
Offwat: ‘serious concerns’ about Anglian Water
An Ofwat spokesperson said, “We have already seen enough in five companies to cause serious concern and warrant us taking further action.”
“We will now dig deeper into what these five companies have been doing, with the prospect of formal enforcement against them if we find they are failing on obligations Ofwat enforces.”
Recently, MPs on the environmental audit committee claimed England’s rivers had become a “chemical cocktail” of sewage, agricultural waste and plastics. They called for stronger regulation of water companies and want to see an urgent review of how companies are allowed to self-report pollution.
Anglian Water Statement
Anglian Water declined to answer questions from EAB on pumping sewage into rivers, but denied that they had lied to Ofwat. However, they were also reluctant to admit that Ofwat are taking action against them. In a written statement, they said,
“We have been addressing CSOs (combined sewage overflows) over many years. We’re already investigating those near Diss Mere, to understand any impact they might have. However, it’s not possible to simply rip out all CSOs.”
“We completely accept CSOs are history, particularly as climate changes and extreme weather is more commonplace. But until they can be eradicated, they act as a necessary safety valve in old sewerage systems, to protect homes and businesses from flooding during heavy rainfall.”
“However, flooding and river quality are about much more than storm overflows. There is a real risk that if all investment is targeted on CSOs, we will never realise the environmental improvements we all want in our waterways.”
Lords amendment voted down
The matter came to a head late last year when the government refused to accept an amendment from the Lords which would have imposed tighter constraints on water companies. Tory MPs explained that nothing could be done in the short term, but had no plan for how the situation could be improved over the medium term either, requiring only a “gradual” improvement and with no timescale.
This brought outrage across the country, particularly in East Anglia. As we’ve reported before, groups have sprung up spontaneously in Suffolk and Norfolk, and they remain vigorous in their opposition to the despoilation of our rivers and beaches.
The most strident is in South Norfolk, the constituency of the increasingly beleaguered Tory backbencher, Richard Bacon. The local group there, Bacon Out, is part of a wider non-party movement called East Angrier.
In recent weeks, there have been several protests and petitions on the streets of Diss in Bacon’s constituency, where the stench from an outfall into the River Waveney in the middle of town can be smelled from the Tesco car park. The outfall is in a public wooded area and next to a sewage treatment works.
One of Bacon’s constituents, Kate Leith of Scole, has written to him and also twice to Anglian Water on behalf of sewage protestors in the Diss area. She has yet to receive a reply from either.
But Bacon continues to support the government line on giving Anglian Water and the other water companies a free hand. The MP claims always to represent the interests and views of his constituents, but his critics challenge him to reveal where he finds people who desire raw sewage to be pumped into their rivers.
“None of Mr Bacon’s constituents wants or would accept the pumping of untreated sewage into our rivers under any pretext whatever,” says Richard Wyndham of Marlingford. “How can his persistent refusal to vote against measures to curb this public health menace be called representing his constituents? He should be ashamed and should resign.”
Richard Parr is more blunt. “If he doesn’t want to identify individuals, then perhaps he could show us the anonymised emails which say, ‘Yes, I’m a great supporter of dumping sh*t in East Anglia’s rivers’.”
Local #Tory MPs @richardbaconmp and @DrDanPoulter have no problem with @AnglianWater discharging raw sewage into our beautiful rivers #Waveney and #Dove – they failed to support measures which would have lessened this disgusting practice and this is the result ?????#Sewage pic.twitter.com/zJI1ezYbna— EastAngrier (@StroppySuffolk) February 19, 2022