The data, published today by the Environment Agency, shows the company discharged untreated sewage almost 70,000 times last year for a grand total of 425,491 hours. United Utilities has done very well out of polluting the region’s waterways – last year it reported operating profits of £610 million in 2022 and paid out dividends of £296 million.
Good Law Project recently supported further legal action brought by the Manchester Ship Canal Company against United Utilities to challenge the water company’s attempts to escape legal accountability for sewage dumping. This dispute has been fought for years but, until Good Law Project and others intervened, no one was representing the interests of the public. The case was heard in the Supreme Court at the beginning of March and we are awaiting the decision. If this case succeeds, it will have significant implications for our ability as individuals, landowners and businesses to hold profit-obsessed water companies like United Utilities to account.
Today’s figures show United Utilities are not the only big polluters.
South West Water, a firm that declared £135m in profits in 2022, poured sewage into English water for a staggering 290,271 hours during the same year.
In total, raw sewage was dumped into rivers and coastal areas across England by private water companies for a total of 1.7 million hours in 2022 – an equivalent of 4,808 hours every single day.
Seven other firms are shown to be polluting English waters to varying degrees. Yorkshire Water was responsible for 54,273 sewage spills.
And Severn Trent Water discharged sewage through its network of storm overflows 44,765 times over 249,116 hours, last year.
Here’s a breakdown of the worst offenders:
||Total duration of sewage spills in 2022 (hrs)
||Total number of spills in 2022. (no.)
|South West Water
|Severn Trent Water
|Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water
Source: Environment Agency
It has long been apparent that sewage discharges through storm overflows are a systemic problem. They should only happen in an emergency, such as after heavy rainfall, but they are instead alarmingly routine. This is one the most egregious symptoms of our privatised water industry which has put the vast dividends of shareholders and bonuses of directors above investment in its outdated infrastructure.
The Government published its Storm Overflows Discharges Reduction Plan last summer in an attempt to stem the flow. But the plan gives water companies until 2050 to improve their infrastructure.
Even beyond 2050, the plan fails to protect the majority of our coastal waters and does not include hundreds of other storm overflows.
We think that allowing this level of environmental vandalism to continue for decades to come is not only unconscionable but unlawful.
This is why we have launched a legal challenge, supporting Marine Conservation Society, Richard Haward’s Oysters and surfer and activist Hugo Tagholm, which seeks to compel the Government to make the plan fit for purpose. We want to see tougher targets imposed upon water companies and a much more complete plan to clean up our waters.
We have a High Court hearing ahead of us and we need your help. Please join us in our campaign to protect our coastlines, rivers and waterways for generations to come by supporting this legal challenge here.