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Water UK response to WWF 'Flushed Away' report

Press release
Water environment
16 October 2017
River Stour

The Water UK response to WWF’s ‘Flushed Away’ report is below.

“There’s a genuine debate to be had about how we as a country are going to deal with sewage and drainage issues in future in a way which protects our environment, but WWF have muddied the waters with an inaccurate picture of what is going on.

“The report over-states the link between the health of our rivers and how water companies treat and dispose of sewage. For example, it makes no distinction between serious pollution incidents and those which the Environment Agency says have ‘minimal impact’, giving a false impression of the extent of the problem.

“By 2020, the water industry will have spent around £25 billion on environmental work to improve the quality of our waterways, and we always want to do better. That is why we have in place a major programme of work jointly with environmental organisations, through Blueprint for Water, to plan the vital improvements which need to be made in the future.”

Water UK Communications
0207 344 1805

Background information

  • The increase in pollution incidents that WWF refers to is 9 category 1 incidents this year, up from a record low of 4 in 2015. The total of all serious incidents (category 1 and 2) has continued to fall (currently at 57 compared to 59 last year). This leaves the remaining 1845 incidents as category 3 (more than 97%) – the EA describes category 3 as ‘incidents that have a minor or minimal impact… with only a limited or localised effect on water quality’
  • The WWF claim that 45% of ‘failing’ rivers are affected by discharges from sewage treatment works. Overall compliance levels for discharge at wastewater treatment works was 99.0% in 2016 according to the EA (only 34 STWs failed, compared to 46 in 2015)
  • Between 1990 and 2020, the industry will have invested around £25 billion into environmental work; putting in more advanced treatment methods to improve the quality of our waterways – these improvements by the industry have seen protection or improvements to over 15,000km of rivers in the UK since 1995
  • There are various examples of wildlife such as salmon and otters returning in recent years to rivers that have been uninhabitable since the industrial revolution.
  • The three year trend (2014-16) has seen the average amount of incidents (per 10,000 km of sewers) fall dramatically from 74 to 34 – it is now less than half what is was 3 years ago
  • As the report acknowledges (pg 44), there is an ambitious programme to increase the proportion of sewer overflows monitored from today’s low levels to between 75-100% by 2020