Water companies inject one-fifth less money into sewer work despite leaks and rising bills, new data shows


Water companies have cut investments in sewage systems by a fifth in the 30 years since their privatization, figures show.

The chronic underinvestment comes despite the 31% increase in water bills and the £ 72bn paid out in dividends to investors over the same period.

The claims come as companies come under attack for dumping sewage into rivers instead of treating it – what critics say is because they haven’t invested adequately in treatment work .

Water companies are now facing a wave of anger – which includes customers withholding bills to protest the repeated dumping of sewage into rivers and seas.

The analysis focuses on investments following privatization in 1989. And it shows that the money invested in wastewater and sewerage systems has decreased by almost a fifth – 17% – from 2.9 billion pounds in the 1990s to 2.4 billion pounds, according to data from regulator Ofwat. and the Windrush Against Sewage Pollution campaign group.

Water companies have cut investments in sewage systems by a fifth in the 30 years since their privatization. Pictured: Image of an environmental worker treating the Trent River in Yoxall after it was contaminated with untreated sewage and cyanide in October 2009

Water bills have risen 31% in real terms since the 1990s, and £ 72bn has been paid out as dividends to parent companies and investors, including private equity, sovereign wealth and funds. pension.

Ashley Smith, founder of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, said data showed parts of the water industry had “become heavily dependent on being able to get away with the illegal dumping of sewage to support underinvestment in its infrastructure “.

And Martin Salter, of the Angling Trust and former Member of Parliament for Reading West, said: ‘There has been a huge increase in housing construction and population – we have built more houses and schools, but are improving. our wastewater treatment work to deal with it? No, it always ends in the river.

Julie Wassmer, a novelist, has withheld paying her Southern Water bill for her repeated wastewater discharge on the Kent coast, for which the company has been fined.

In a letter posted online which explained her actions, she said: “It cannot be fair that criminal activity is rewarded, that families have been forced to leave the beaches and out of the sea, that residents have had to sweep the sewage off a walkway, so the children in the area wouldn’t have to walk in the feces on their way to school. ‘

The country’s rivers are in poor condition. In 2019, only 16% of England’s rivers and seas met the minimum ‘good or better’ status, according to official figures from the Environment Agency. Pictured: Sewage from the Jubilee River was reported to Thames Water in May 2020

She attacked the company and its shareholders for continuing “to reap huge profits from it all, demanding high wages and paying dividends to shareholders in the process.”

She added, “So I am exercising my consumer rights by refusing to pay Southern Water.”

The country’s rivers are in poor condition. In 2019, only 16% of England’s rivers and seas met the minimum ‘good or better’ status, according to official figures from the Environment Agency.

Water UK, which represents the companies, said: “The water industry is one of the most regulated industries in the country, with strict controls on the activity of companies, including on the amount that companies are authorized to invest each year.

“We are pushing the government to encourage the economic regulator, Ofwat, to authorize programs that meet the government’s environmental goals.”


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