Profit-motivated pollution is the water sector’s dirty secret
On what planet does the boss of a water company, with an appalling record of polluting rivers and seas with raw human sewage, get paid more than £1m in salary and bonuses?
On Planet Shitshow, where we all now reside, that’s where. Until relatively recently we were unaware the water industry had chosen to use rivers, lakes and beaches as open sewers rather than invest in enough new tanks and pipes to cope with our swelling volumes of effluent.
But the sector’s dirty secret is out and the volume of raw sewage entering our waters is breathtaking in more ways than one. If you believe the industry’s own data, they dumped raw sewage 372,444 times last year, for more than 2.6 million hours. That’s equivalent to 297 YEARS! But hold those gasps, this is just the tip of the shitberg – the actual figure is much worse than this because not all spills get reported, oh and because the sector has, in the face of unignorable evidence from campaign groups, admitted that much of the dumping it’s doing is probably a little bit illegal.
That confession woke regulators the Environment Agency and Ofwat from their deep slumber and they launched a long overdue investigation.
Poisoning rivers with sewage is tempting for water companies because it’s so much cheaper than investing in infrastructure
Poisoning rivers with shit is tempting for water companies because it’s so much cheaper than investing in infrastructure that would put an end to sewage dumping. Dodging such investment has enabled them to pay their shareholders and directors blisteringly large sums of money, while loading the companies with debt. If you put this to the firms, they will clutch their pearls and insist in unison that they’ve invested large sums of money over the years.
“We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously,” they will harmonise from a well-worn hymn sheet.
“Our sewerage system was built in the Victorian times,” they will shrug, hoping you’ll forget that the industry was privatised back in 1989 with the explicit purpose of attracting private cash to update old infrastructure.
You could argue that – but the sector has therefore overseen more than three decades of underinvestment. It sometimes blames Ofwat for capping the amount of money they’re allowed to spend. The regulator tries to keep a check on spending so that water bills aren’t pushed up; but while it has kept bills relatively low, the environment has paid a hefty price. Just ask a salmon if you don’t believe me, although you’d be hard pushed to find one since populations have crashed to what the Environment Agency describes as “crisis point”.