Green watchdog warns of "glaring" failure in water firms' pollution-reduction bids

Environment Agency chief, Sir James Bevan, has warned that water company performance in reducing pollution was a “glaring exception” in an otherwise “good job operationally.”

Bevan (pictured) delivered his caution in a recent speech, in which he said unrelenting media and political scrutiny of the UK’s water companies meant “day in day out, they risk losing their political and social licence to operate,” unless they maintain the highest operational performance.

He said the companies were failing to keep to an Environment Agency-set target of zero serious pollution incidents by 2020. Over the past five years he said performance had “plateaued in the 50 to 60 range,” with an increase last year to 56 from 52 in 2017.

Bevan described the “hostile” political scrutiny faced by he water sector as “in many ways deeply unfair” and over past decades the water industry had been “a story of stunning success.” But, he said, the political and media challenges meant that to survive “in its present form,” the water industry “needs to up its game.”

Among other challenges Bevan listed was a need to arrest the convergence of rising demand and decreasing water resources. Pivotal to success in that was, he said, “waking people up about what will happen if we don’t change our behaviour.”

He added: “Using less water and using it more efficiently is only partly about investment in infrastructure or technological innovation. Most of it is about changing human behaviour.”