South West Water is languishing at the bottom of a table of national water company environmental performance, part of an annual report published by the Environment Agency. 

The company requires improvement, according to the report published last Wednesday. Pollution incidents, self-reporting and water resources management fall below acceptable levels, although performance has increased from a one- to two-star rating (out of a possible four stars).  

The rating follows a record £2.1-million fine this year after South West Water admitted causing pollution and environmental damage. On balance, however, the Environment Agency recognises new leadership at South West Water is taking the company in a positive direction, with signs of wastewater performance improvement, a reduction in total serious pollution incidents and improved permit compliance during 2022.

According to the report, total pollution incidents in the South West Water catchment area fell by about 33% in one year, to 108 incidents in 2022, down from 151 in 2021.

Two were deemed to be serious - one relating to a foul sewer and another to a rising main - down from eight in 2021. South West Water self-reported 78% of pollution incidents in 2022, up from 68% in 2021, according to the report.

The report came as the government published a new law to allow the Environment Agency to impose unlimited civil sanctions on water companies for environmental offences, making it quicker and easier for penalties to be imposed, although the most serious cases will still be taken through criminal proceedings. 

This year’s report found that among the nine national water companies, the number of serious pollution incidents had reduced but remains unacceptably high. More than half of such incidents were from assets of Anglian Water and Thames Water – EA has taken enforcement action against both companies.