Water companies to be grilled on pollution in Devon rivers

Water Purity Test. Hand holding a chemical flask with water, the reservoir (lake or river) in the ba

Water Purity Test. Hand holding a chemical flask with water, the reservoir (lake or river) in the background. Picture: Getty Images/Stockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

South West Water are to be questioned by the Environmental Audit Committee along with four other water company bosses on why they failed to stop pollution in rivers in Devon.  

The meeting, to be held on Wednesday, October 13, comes after a government inquiry on water quality in rivers found disgusting reports of widespread pollution in the Devon's rivers. 

The report found water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers in England more than 400,000 times in 2020; A previous inquiry heard that a ‘chemical cocktail’ of pollution is now affecting rivers. 

Just 14% of English rivers currently rated an ecological status of ‘Good,’ and no river rated ‘Good’ on its chemical status. One of the main sources for this is sewage discharge from the water industry. 

During this evidence session, MPs will likely explore: the effectiveness of self-monitoring sewage spills; how pollution from fats, oils and greases, chemicals, and plastic pollution can be tackled; current regulation and enforcement of pollution incidents; and whether water companies are making adequate investment to fix these problems. 

The inquiry will hear witnesses from five of the biggest water companies in the UK; Thames Water, Northumbrian Water, Southern Water and Susan Davy, Chief Executive Officer of South West Water. 

There has been no improvement in the water quality since 2016, when the report was first published, when 16 per cent of rivers were found to be of good water quality. Though tests were tougher back then.  

four people stood in field

South West Water working with farmers to stop field water run off polluting rivers - Credit: South West Water

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South West Water has invested over £20 million in protecting water quality since 2010 and has made improvements to 100,000 hectares of land across 80 per cent of drinking water catchments to benefit water quality. 

These changes bring benefits to river water quality by reducing a range of diffuse pollutions problems, such as dirty water run-off from farmyards (a source of ammonia and pathogens) and field run-off (a source of sediment, nutrients and pesticides). 

The government pledged in last years report, all rivers would be 100 per cent safe by 2027. But last year every river in the UK was found to be polluted.  

This session marks the final evidence hearing for the Water Quality in Rivers inquiry. The report is due to be published by the end of the year. 

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