At the beginning of this year, Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) assisted Philip Dunne MP in drafting his Private Members’ Bill, the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, to eliminate sewage pollution of rivers from storm overflows. Unfortunately, the Bill did not get Government support and ran out of Parliamentary time, but the Government made an announcement in March on some measures it would introduce into the Environment Bill.
That announcement included the stark admission that sewage pollution was happening, at least in part, because “water infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth”.
In response, S&TC wrote to the Minister and Ofwat, pointing out that, for the last 30 years, they had jointly presided over the water company asset management planning system put in place by the Water Industry Act 1991, so, if water infrastructure has not kept pace, then fault for that must lie with them.
S&TC made it plain that we would expect the next planning cycle to deal with that backlog in investment and that the duty placed on the water companies under section 94(1)(b) of the 1991 Act to ‘effectually deal with sewage’ - in common parlance, to treat sewage rather than dumping it in rivers - must be enforced by Ofwat, using its powers to serve enforcement notices under section 18 of the 1991 Act.
We are now both interested and delighted to see that Ofwat has just written to the Chief Executives of all the privatised water companies in the last week reminding them of the section 94 duty and referring to the potential for Ofwat to use its enforcement powers.
When we wrote to the Minister and OFWAT in April, we made it quite clear that if the plans coming forward in the next asset management cycle are insufficient to deal with the problem, we will seek to judicially review those plans.
That remains our position but it appears that Ofwat now understands, as the financial regulator, that it is firmly in the crosshairs.