Water suppliers are set to face unlimited fines for sewage dumping in the government’s latest action plan to crack down on poor performance across the industry.
Speaking at London Wetland Centre, environment secretary Therese Coffey will tomorrow confirm plans to change the law to increase the maximum amount the Environment Agency (EA) can secure in penalties for water companies damaging the environment.
It will launch an industry consultation, including a preferred option to remove the cap and enable the EA to issue unlimited penalties.
This follows recent action from Ofwat to ensure dividends are clearly linked to company performance for customers and the environment, alongside tighter measures on water company executive bonuses.
Ofwat is planning to accelerate £1.6bn of investment from suppliers to tackle pollution and increase our water resilience – including £1.1bn on storm overflow improvements to cut 10,000 discharges.
Alongside spending pledges from the watchdog, Coffey will unveil plans for a new Water Restoration Fund, using money from water company fines and penalties to support local groups and catchment projects like re-meandering rivers and restoring habitats.
Meanwhile, farmers will be supported with an extra £34m to tackle water pollution and boost food production, with an additional £10m for farm reservoirs and irrigation.
The government also plans to ban the sale of wet wipes containing plastic, subject to consultation.
This is in response to public calls to tackle plastic in British waterways, and will include making sure plastic-free alternatives are available to the public.
It has also announced new proposals to restrict the use of so-called ‘forever’ chemicals found in rivers and an earlier deadline for water companies to reduce chemicals in wastewater treatment.
Coffey said: “Our rare chalk streams and world-famous coastlines, lakes and rivers are hugely important to local communities and to nature.
“I completely understand the concerns that people have about the health and resilience of our waters, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them. That includes higher penalties taken from water company profits which will be channelled back into the rivers, lakes and streams where it is needed.
“This is not straightforward, but I take this issue extremely seriously and things need to change. That’s why we have developed this plan and we are committed to delivering the progress that people want to see.”
When approached for comment, a spokesperson for industry body Water UK said: “We strongly welcome the plan, which for the first time deals with every sector that has a responsibility for the water environment.
“We particularly agree with the plan’s support for more investment – but also better policy, where the plan proposes to ban plastic in wet wipes, a major cause of fatbergs and pollution”.