Ofwat has written to all water companies in England and Wales calling on them to meet growing expectations about the use of storm overflows and signalling that further action is needed.
The intervention from Ofwat’s new interim chief executive comes following concern about the increased use of storm overflows in recent years and the impact they can have on waterways, biodiversity and local communities.
During wet weather, storm overflows act to prevent sewers becoming overloaded and, in some circumstances, can result in wastewater being released into rivers.
Writing to the chief executives of water companies, Ofwat’s David Black has called on them to build on progress they have made on other fronts with a focus on meeting the challenge from the use of storm overflows. In the most recent price review, Ofwat approved £1.2bn of investment to reduce the use of storm overflows.
Ofwat is seeking specific assurance that water company Boards are closely monitoring performance, using the right data, and providing the appropriate check and challenge on the use of storm overflows.
The regulator has warned that where companies do not have the right measures in place, it could take action against them.
David Black, Ofwat’s interim chief executive, said: “Caring for our rivers is a complex and multi-sector issue, but is clear to me that the positive strides the water sector has made in other areas of environmental performance are not evident when it comes to storm overflows.
“This is a sector with genuine ambitions to be, and be seen as, leaders when it comes to caring for the environment. The challenges from the use of storm overflows present an opportunity for water companies to show they mean business and can meet the growing expectations on them.”
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said new legally-binding obligations had been added to the Environment Bill to tackle pollution in rivers.