Water industry periodic review: the case for the environment

United Kingdom

When discussing environmental compliance it is often overlooked that to allow any polluting matter or waste to enter surface water or groundwater is illegal. This applies to any pollution caused by both point sources and diffuse sources. It covers discharges from, say, sewage treatment works and other pollution. It is illegal, but often condoned by the Environment Agency, presumably through lack of resources or as a matter of policy.
With regard to the water companies, if the Environment Agency were to enforce environmental regulation properly, the cost would be substantial. Obviously, it is then a question of who is to bear that cost: should it be the customers or the shareholders of the water companies. OFWAT states in its document "Setting Price Limits for Water and Sewerage Services - The Framework and Business Planning Process for the1999 Periodic Review" (published February 1998) that it favours the cost of compliance to be borne by the water companies and not by the customers. Indeed, it appears to take the view that customers are only interested in the price of water, whereas it is quite clear from surveys that customers are also interested in environmental protection.
The Environment Agency has now submitted its environmental requirements for the water industry to the Government by way of its paper entitled "A Price Worth Paying", which sets priorities for investment by water companies. It is now for the Government to decide where its priorities lie.
Pamela Castle