Ofwat statement on storm overflows

David Black, Interim Chief Executive of Ofwat, said:

“The current levels of storm overflow discharges into rivers cannot continue, and the water sector must tackle this. Water companies have a critical role in protecting and preserving the natural environment. Customers and the public rightly expect water companies to take this role extremely seriously, and there has been widespread, understandable frustration and anger. Addressing storm overflows must take place alongside wider actions to improve rivers to good ecological status.

“As part of our recent price review, we required companies to reduce pollution incidents by 30% by 2025 and to improve 12,000km of rivers. We also backed investment of around £1bn every year for water companies to improve the natural environment by increasing the capacity of the wastewater system to meet growing demand. In July we approved almost £3bn extra for green recovery plans to deliver lasting environmental improvements.

“Water companies must show a step-change in culture and commitment, including to make best use of the tools and funding already available. More innovation, greater use of nature-based solutions, and significant contributions from other sectors, are also needed to care for our rivers. We see signs of this shift within some companies and we need this to be a change across the whole industry.

“The storm overflow taskforce is fully focused on this issue, and we are a core member, working closely with the Government and Environment Agency as well as CCW, Blueprint for Water and Water UK to reduce harm from storm overflows.”

Summary

  • David Black wrote to water company CEOs in June 2021 to remind them of their obligations with regard to storm overflows.
  • The requirements for environmental improvement in the water sector for each price review are set out in the National Environment Programme (NEP) for Wales by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) for England by the Environment Agency (EA).
  • Ofwat allows funding for companies to efficiently and fully meet their environmental obligations set out in legislation and WINEP/NEP.
  • For the 2020-2025 period £4.8 billion of investment is being made to deliver the National Environment Programme (NEP) for Wales and the Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) for England, of which £1.2 billion is specifically for storm overflow related improvements.
  • In addition, the green recovery support package will see extra investment of £793 million, alongside bringing forward £1.9 billion in additional statutory environment schemes into the 2020-2025 period.
  • Water companies are also currently accelerating work to install monitoring devices across all storm overflows by 2023 in England and by March 2022 in Wales.
  • We are committed to working with Defra and the Environment Agency to reform WINEP to facilitate catchment based approaches, partnership working and nature based solutions to address the challenges of leaving the environment in a better state for future generations.
  • As part of our recent price review, we have required all companies to reduce pollution incidents, sewer blockages and sewer flooding.