We have heard about all the sewage being pumped into the UK’s seas and rivers disturbing ecological levels as well as public health whilst the water companies cut costs and raise bills.

Can something be done to stop the water companies getting away with it and how can we trust our water now?


Their Financial Mismanagement

Water Companies are a necessary industry and this is why the government will always bail them out of their debt.

Since being privatised in 1989 the industry has borrowed £68bn, somehow they have since paid £78bn in dividends to investors and shareholders.

Water Companies rely on investors which usually come from wealthy companies which according to the Guardian, include, Qatar Investment Authority, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the US company BlackRock and other private equity firms.

They remain funded through their investors as well as borrowing whilst expecting a return to reward those investors and pay back debt. Thames set a plan for 2024 of increasing their dividends whilst raising their customers’ bills by around 40%.


Rising Bills

Southern Water is asking for a price increase of 91% which would be an increase to £915 a year by 2030 according to Consumer Council for Water. South Staffordshire and Cambridge water are asking for the lowest price increase of 24% which would be a hike to £221.

These increases are said to fund £100bn of spending over the next five years which will be spent on replacing ageing, leaking pipes and reducing sewage being pumped into rivers and lakes across the country. The industry regulator is set to decide what the companies can charge between 2025 to 2030, their survey from water companies found that fewer than 1 in 6 considered water bill rises affordable.

The water companies are set to hike prices but it is up to Ofwat to decide by how much. Details are set to be published 12 June and finalised in December.


Sewage disaster

It has been found that millions of litres of raw sewage has been pumped into Cumbria’s, Lake Windermere. United Utilities documents show a fault at a pumping station in Bowness-on-Windermere which left sewage being illegally pumped into the lake for around 10 hours.

On the 15TH May the Liberal Democrats proposed to criminalise water companies not tackling the problem which the Conservatives voted against.

In 2023, Friends of the Earth found 68,481 incidents of sewage released into England’s seas which totalled to 440,446 hours.

More than a quarter of those incidents were nearby to popular bathing spots.

The Guardian states the financial benefits for the water companies as when they divert the water to rivers and seas rather than utilising treatment plants they can save money.


The effect on the UK environment

The River Trust collected date from UK river stretches which determined the true detriment to our environment as only 15% of stretches received good or above ecological health status. Out of our 3553 rivers, 158 got worse from last year. They found that 52% of river stretches declined in health due to Water Companies pollution.


What is being done?

In March, the Government announced that an investment of £180m over the next 12 months is set in place to prevent over 8000 sewage spills in waterways.

Investment into the overflow system and monitors to spot blockages earlier to prevent spills. Additionally they expect new specialist staff training to support the investment.

There has also been a ban on bonuses set in place so water company executive who have committed serious breaches will no longer receive a bonus and will be an increase in inspections.