A new report published today, Tuesday 15 April, on the environmental plans of water companies reveals a yawning gap between the best and worst performers in England and Wales.

For the first time, plans from the 21 water companies in England and Wales are rated using a traffic light system across 10 environmental areas: from plans to tackle damage from water extraction, to those stopping raw sewage discharge into rivers and onto beaches.

The Blueprint for Water coalition has found that three companies’ plans show real ambition, but no company is planning what they regard to be ‘good’ progress across all 10 of the areas.

The Blueprint for Water coalition – the report’s authors – says water companies need to show leadership on the environment and open their industry to scrutiny, to prove they are meeting their customers’ demands to look after rivers, streams and beaches.

The Blueprint for Water coalition’s report, which includes WWF-UK, RSPB and the Marine Conservation Society, assesses the latest water company business plans for the next five years. It rates them on their environmental ambitions, whilst highlighting the lack of public information regarding current performance.

Topline messages from the report are as follows:

  • At the top of the ranking are three companies whose plans include good progress across 90% of areas: Affinity Water, United Utilities and Wessex Water.
  • At bottom are six companies (Bournemouth, Cambridge, South Staffs, Essex and Suffolk, Dee Valley and Sutton and East Surrey Water), whose plans include good progress in less than a third of areas. 
  • Just a fifth have plans that make good progress to price water fairly through use of water meters and tariffs to protect lower income households and encourage water efficiency.
  • Less than half of companies (45%) include good plans to keep our rivers flowing by reducing damaging abstraction licences and managing their operations to minimise the water they take from the most environmentally vulnerable sources.
  • 60% are making sufficient progress with plans to deal with surface-water flooding, including making use of Sustainable Drainage Systems.
  • Less than two thirds (60%) are making sufficient plans to tackle water waste (including through encouraging water efficiency and tackling leakage).

Janina Gray, Head of Science & Environmental Policy at the Salmon & Trout Association, and Chair of the Blueprint for Water, said:

‘Water companies consulted widely in preparing their business plans, and the public gave them a resounding message that – despite the economic climate – they do not want their water providers to pollute or damage the environment. Water companies are monopolies: customers can’t change supplier so it is really important that we shine a light on what’s planned so customers can make sure that they are getting what they asked for.

‘Today’s report shows that there is real innovation and ambition for the environment from parts of the water industry. We hope that this report shines a light on this so others will follow.

Rose O’Neill, Freshwater Programme Manager at WWF-UK said:

‘While many water companies have some really laudable environmental plans, there is very little evidence in the public domain to show whether or not they are achieving their goals.  Anyone trying to get a clear view of how well they are performing on the environment will be looking into muddy waters at best.

‘And even with a clear steer from the regulator on public engagement – as was the case with these business plans – there were cases with seven companies where we could not quite tell what was going on. We need full transparency and proper public scrutiny so that everyone knows what their water bills are paying for, and so water companies can be held to account.’

Collectively, water companies are doing more to protect and enhance our environment than most other industries. This is challenging, especially when they have to spend a lot of their customers’ money cleaning-up after other sectors, like agriculture, which can pollute sources of drinking water and contaminate rivers and streams.

Phil Burston, Senior Water Policy Officer at the RSPB said:

‘Our assessment shows the industry is doing more than ever before to address its impact on the water environment and is leading the way compared to other sectors. But with just a quarter of our rivers, streams and coastal water bodies in good ecological health, it’s clear that there’s a huge amount still to be done. While water companies can continue to improve their performance, other sectors need to step up and we need to see stronger leadership from the Government, as well as company boardrooms, to ensure this happens.’

The Blueprint for Water coalition wants to see water valued for the precious resource that it is and it is calling on Ofwat and the water companies to consider this assessment as the business plans are finalised over 2014 to ensure that they fully deliver for customers and the environment.


Click here for The Blueprint for PR14: An environmental assessment of water company plans Scorecard

Click here for The detailed methodology for the report