Water companies plan £96bn investment to overhaul sewers and cut back on leakage and spills

The sector has been has been in the media spotlight due to pollution and discharges.

The plan, which will be funded by increases to public bills over the next five years, is the largest ever proposed investment in the sector.

If approved by Ofwat, the spending would support the construction of 10 new reservoirs to secure water supplies, cut leakage by a quarter by 2030, invest £11bn to reduce overflow spills and remove more than a million tonnes of phosphorus from rivers.

The investment is expected to be the most ambitious modernisation of sewers since the Victorian era, which would help reduce spills by more than 140,000 annually by the end of the decade. The creation of new nature-based schemes to manage rainwater and technology to better manage flows are listed as investment priorities.

Water UK’s chief executive, David Henderson said:  “These record-breaking investment proposals will secure our water supply as we deal with a changing climate and a growing population.

“Ofwat now needs to back these plans that are both ambitious and vital. Approving the plans is necessary so that we can provide the highest quality drinking water for a growing population, ensure the security of our water supply in the future and reduce the use of storm overflows as much as possible.”

The critical investments will be funded by gradual increases to bills between 2025 and 2030. The average bill in England will increase by £7 per month by 2025, rising to £13 per month by 2030.

Water UK claims that more than 1.6 million consumers were consulted about the development plans.

“While increasing bills is never welcome, this investment in our country’s infrastructure is essential to ensure the security of our water supply,” Henderson said.

“Water companies are seeking regulatory approval to reduce overflow spills into rivers and seas as fast as possible and to doubling the number of households receiving support to pay their bills.”

Murky waters

In May, water companies were forced to apologise for not giving sufficient attention to the issues the public care about, such as overflow spills.

Last month, Lords urged the Government to back up its pledge to leverage billions of pounds of private investment in water infrastructure with an action plan, accusing Ministers of ‘lacking leadership’ on water system sustainability.

The House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee expressed a deep disappointment in the Government’s response to the Committee’s report on failures in water and sewage regulation, first published in March.

On investment, the report stated that Defra’s pledge to raise £56bn from the private sector to reduce and improve storm overflow discharges was yet to be backed with a credible plan for delivery. It called for Ofwat to be given “strong, clear guidance” on how to make sure that water companies are preparing to meet this level of investment. The letter reiterates this call to action.

As of May, only £10bn had been pledged in relation to sewage discharges and overflows by water companies.

The sector has been has been in the media spotlight over accusations of pollution and discharges.

In July, the Environment Agency confirmed it would now hand out limitless financial penalties under new legislation aimed at protecting the environment and speeding up the enforcement process. Previously the Environment Agency could only hand out fines up to £250,000 for offences.

The power will apply to permit breaches for combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and hazardous waste disposal.

The UK’s post-Brexit environment watchdog stated that water regulator Ofwat, plus factions of the Government, may have flouted environmental laws by not properly regulating sewage overflows.

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