A total of eight water companies were fined during 1998 with Wessex Water positioned in the number one water industry slot, after being fined a total of £36,500 following five prosecutions. Wessex Water was followed by Anglian Water Services which was fined a total of £24,250 and North West Water £15,500. The rest of the list was made up of Welsh Water (£15,250), Thames Water Utilities (£14,000), South West Water (£9,500), Severn Trent Water (£8,000) and Northumbrian Water (£5,300).

“In 1997, the water and sewage industry was responsible for the largest number of pollution incidents in England and Wales,” said EA director of operations Archie Robertson. “The large number of water companies in our Hall of Shame reflects the industry’s continuing disregard for the environment, as many of the incidents were a result of poor day-to-day management.

“The industry has a clear set of regulatory obligations to prevent such incidents occurring. Clearly some manufacturers don’t take their responsibilities as seriously as they should.

“The water industry must understand it has a responsibility to protect the environment and need to be publicly held to account. The companies included in our Hall of Shame have let down the public, the environment and their own industry,” said Mr Robertson.

Although reassured that the legal system can bring environmental offenders to justice EA chief executive Ed Gallagher is concerned that the level of the fines imposed by the courts is too low.

“Tough action by the Environment Agency in the field needs to be matched by tougher penalties being imposed by the courts,” said Mr Gallagher. “The average fine for a prosecution in the water and sewage sectors last year was £3,489. Clearly this is not sending out a strong enough message to deter water and sewage companies who have the potential to seriously damage the environment.”

While regretting the incidents Graham Setterfield, director of water services at Water UK argued: “This report needs to be put into a proper perspective. No-one has more contact with the aquatic environment in its day to day activities than we do.

“Nearly half of the £30,000 million invested by the industry over the last ten years has been committed to improving quality and environmental standards but Ofwat’s plan to cut water bills in the year 2000 will prejudice our fight to continue reducing pollution. We regret all pollution incidents – whatever the reason – but no-one is doing more to improve the quality of our rivers and coastal waters than the water companies.”

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie