Earlier this year, Julia Lopez MP welcomed the announcement from Water UK that they were ready to invest £10 billion to help cut sewage overflows - https://www.julialopez.co.uk/news/water-uk-announcement-may-2023 Following this, in July, the Environment Agency (EA) published its annual report which stated that Thames Water and Anglian Water had remained ranked at 2 out of 4 stars for their performance, and reported that over half of serious pollution incidents were from these companies’ assets. Given this, Julia has recently written to the Chief Executive of Thames Water, Cathryn Ross, and Chief Executive of Anglian Water, Peter Simpson, following the report seeking comments on their performance, an outline of the steps the companies are taking to improve this, and the steps being taken to reduce the number of serious and non-serious pollution incidents.
The EA’s annual report focussed on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewage companies. The EA rate each water company from 1 to 4 stars which takes into account performance on environmental commitments including pollution incidents and treatment work compliance. Although acknowledging that performance thresholds have continually tightened, and there has been modest improvement at headline level in performance, Julia was disappointed to learn that both Anglian Water and Thames Waters’ performances have remained at 2 stars and was particularly concerned by reports about serious pollution incidents.
Anglian Water also manages sewage discharges at Bury Farm Water Recycling Centre in Upminster, and Julia sought an update on Anglian’s efforts to reduce the discharges from this site. Mr Simpson confirmed that Anglian is due to submit its business plan for 2025-2030 to Ofwat this October and, as part of Anglian’s planned investment during this period, it is seeking funding to install flow monitoring at Upminster by 2026. Mr Simpson states this will help ensure accurate measurement to flow to full treatment so that Anglian’s storm tank is only used during high rainfall events and they are able to maximise the flows that are fully treated on site. Anglian is also proposing to invest over £4 million at the site before 2030 to install new treatment facilities to reduce the amount of phosphorous entering the watercourse, which would help improve local river quality. Anglian Water’s fuller response can be viewed below:
Thank you for your email regarding Anglian Water’s rating in the Environment Agency’s recent Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA). We take our responsibility to protect, restore and improve our region’s environment incredibly seriously and fully accept that our performance must improve.
Over the last two years we’ve drastically changed how we operate to address more effectively the unique and complex challenges facing our region. Our heavily drained, flat landscape and long, narrow watercourses, combined with our assets spread across rural locations, mean that although our pollution incidents have not caused the environmental impact commonly assumed, we are predisposed to receiving a higher categorisation for pollutions, as distance is a measure used by the EA to determine the severity of a pollution.
To overcome these challenges, we’ve needed to think radically about how we can address our operations and pollutions performance and we are committed to reaching our goal of zero harm from our assets. Last week we published our pollution incident reduction plan which sets out our ambition and the action we are taking to achieve our goal of zero harm from our assets. The early data shows these steps have been positive, but whilst our plans are being implemented at pace, we are also realistic that it will take time for these actions to turn into results which will show up in metrics like the EPA.
We are also making good progress across a wide range of environmental metrics that are not reflected in the EPA, particularly in regard to the impact of our abstraction on the environment. Our region is one of the driest parts of the country and despite experiencing an exceptionally hot and dry summer last year we didn’t need to implement a hosepipe ban or apply for any drought permits, meaning we weren’t putting extra pressure on an already water-stressed environment. We are also making the biggest reductions in abstraction of any water company (as a proportion of output) and are on track to leave an extra 85 million litres of water per day in the environment by 2025, despite operating in the driest region with the fastest growing population. Together these actions will help ensure chalk streams have flows they need for good ecological quality.
The issue of storm overflows is slightly different to the discussion around pollution incidents, as whilst there is a shared desire to reduce the number of discharges from storm overflows, they are consented by the Environment Agency and are different to pollution incidents. Over the past few years we have made good progress on reducing discharges from our storm overflows, although we recognise that there is more still to be done.
The data from our monitoring shows that the overall number of hours of spills from our storm overflows reduced by over 50 percent last year compared to 2021. The average number of spills across all storm overflows with monitoring in place in 2022 was 15, down from 25 the year before. We are firmly on track to meet our target of 20 spills on average across all storm overflows by 2025.
At our Upminster water recycling centre (also known as Bury Farm) there were a total of 14 spills in 2022, lasting for a combined total of 86.5 hours. This is the first full year we have data for this site, but we will shortly be moving to near real time reporting, which will allow customers to see much more detail on how we are performing.
Our business plan for 2025 to 2030 will be submitted to Ofwat in October. This plan will include a significant increase in investment in infrastructure, including more than £1bn of investment in improving the environment. This represents an increase of around a third compared to our 2020 to 2025 investment levels. This investment will help us meet the new Government targets on storm overflows, as well reduce pollution incidents. As part of this proposed investment, we will be seeking funding for a project to remove surface water from the sewer network in Upminster using sustainable drainage systems. This will help to reduce spills from the works and we would be happy to share more details with you as our plans develop further.
I hope this information is helpful to you. We would be more than happy to meet with you to discuss these issues further.
Within Hornchurch and Upminster, Thames Water have an improvement plan for Nags Head Lane, which feeds into the River Ingrebourne. Julia sought an update on the delivery of the improvement project for this site alongside comments on the benefits that can be expected once completed. Thames Water's response can be viewed in full below:
Dear Ms Lopez,
Thank you for writing to me regarding the Environment Agency’s recently published annual report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewage companies, and your request for an update on plans for improvements on Nags Head Lane (your case ref: JLS24128).
First, I would like to respond to our 2-star rating in the Environment Agency report. Protecting the environment is fundamental to what we do, and we recognise our performance in preventing pollutions is still not good enough. We’re committed to turning this around and our shareholders have approved additional funding into the business so we can improve outcomes for customers, leakage and river health.
Alongside implementing our Pollution Incident Reduction Plan to deliver these changes, we have plans to upgrade over 250 of our sewage treatment works by the end of the next regulatory period (known as ‘AMP8’ which ends in March 2030) and are striving every day to reduce the discharge of untreated sewage into our rivers. This is a key part of our River Health Action Plan. to radically improve our position in order to protect and improve the environment, as we strive to eliminate all incidents in line with our vision for 2050.
Thames Water also has patient shareholders who, rather than taking money out of the business, are providing us with additional equity to make the investments we need. Recently, our shareholders agreed to provide a further £750 million in new equity funding across the current regulatory period (2020-2025, known as ‘AMP7’) as part of Thames Water’s turnaround plan to improve performance and outcomes for customers and the environment, including by reducing leakage and improving river health.
In January of this year, we also became the first water company in England to publish an online map providing close to real-time information about storm discharges from all of our 468 permitted locations, and this continues to be updated with information on improvements being planned for more than 250 sites across our region. You can view Thames Water’s storm overflow EDM Map here: https://www.thameswater.co.uk/edm-map
With regards to the improvements at Nags Head Lane, these improvements are aimed at improving river health by reducing the amount of phosphorus being discharged from the sewage treatment works. This scheme is still in the design stages so I cannot provide you with, an exact delivery timeline at this time.
I hope that this letter has addressed your concerns, and highlighted the work we are doing to improve river health both within your constituency as well as across our wider catchment.