Water firm admits UK sector slow to tackle sewage
Jun 15 2023
Even if you’ve only been reading the headlines over the last few months, you will no doubt be aware that British water utility firms have come under scrutiny for helping to worsen river pollution. Very few firms, however, have been forthcoming about their responsibility for the crisis, nor their plans to limit their impacts on British rivers. That is until Severn Trent Water announced its plans for significant investment and job creation in an admission of delayed action against sewage discharges, made possible by an increase in turnover to around £2.2 billion that has enabled the firm to elevate capital investment by up to £1 billion.
A major utility company, Severn Trent hopes that this next phase of spending will do its bit in tackling regional unemployment by generating 1,000 new jobs, softening the blow of inflation by enhancing financial aid for roughly 50,000 customers and ending river pollution by upgrading its Victorian sewage infrastructure. Although Severn Trent claims to have significantly curtailed sewage spillages and to have been investing heavily in updating its systems, the firm recognizes that sewer flooding – the main reason why untreated sewage ends up in British rivers – remains a significant problem that will need a bunch more money thrown at it. As such, CEO Liv Garfield announced what she considers "the most significant investment period the sector has ever witnessed, with an emphasis on water resources, elevating environmental standards, and achieving net zero." Internal figures project capital investment to be between £850 million and £1 billion in the next fiscal year alone, much of which will be directed towards sewers.
Besides bumper profits, there’s another big reason why Severn Trent are suddenly putting some money where their mouth is. Severn Trent Water were among those most vehemently criticized by governments and campaigners for failing to adequately curtail spills in rivers and beaches – and they’re no small fry when it comes to overflows. A recent analysis of Environment Agency data revealed that it contributed to considerable sewage dumps last year, resulting in more than 6,600 hours of sewage discharge into just one Rutland brook. So, it’s highly welcome that Severn Trent is not only acknowledging the crisis but taking responsibility for their role in bringing us to this point and outlining an actionable plan to diminish their impact: "As a sector, we should have given sewage discharges more emphasis and acted more promptly. We aspire to be a catalyst for positive change."
There are still great distances yet to cover, not least the distance between public intention and private action. But it seems, with mainstream newspapers launching information campaigns to raise awareness about the soiling of Britain’s rivers and the issue entering popular political discourse in the run-up to a general election, that times are changing – or, should I say, the tides are changing. (Yes, readers, rivers do have tides!) At the very least, these announcements from Severn Trent could well mark the beginning of a new culture of responsibility in the water industry. Good tide-ings, then.
To find out how Severn Trent Water will be adapting to the new Environment Act, and what the Act means for water companies in general, click here.
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