Water has not been treated “with the care and importance it deserves.”
That’s the claim of a House of Lords Committee report, calling out failures of the government, water companies and the water regulator, Ofwat.
It reveals that the sector has seen underinvestment and a lack of policy and strategy – which has led to a poor situation for the public and the environment.
It alleges that Ofwat has failed in making companies invest correctly in water infrastructure, choosing to keep bills low instead.
It also calls into question water companies giving their CEOs bonuses when their companies have missed performance targets and polluted the water environment.
More ‘joined-up’ thinking is needed from the government to prevent water pollution and secure supply, the report stresses.
Putting in place the appropriate penalties for environmental pollution is also key and this will rely on both Ofwat and government funding.
The committee has recommended the government provide guidance to Ofwat on how to balance the financial needs of customers with environmental investment during a cost-of-living crisis.
Other proposals include a national water strategy, banning the sale of non-biodegradable wet wipes, adequate funding for the Environment Agency to enforce environmental offences and compulsory water metering.
Lord Hollick, the Chair of the Industry and Regulators Committee, said: “During our inquiry, we have taken evidence from local communities and activist groups and received a considerable amount of written evidence.
“There is an overall feeling of dismay, anguish and anger from respondents, about the state of our waterways and the apparent failure to get to grips with the problem.
“We are calling on regulators and the government to consider our report’s findings and recommendations and act fast before we are all left up sewage creek.”
An Ofwat spokesperson responded: “We welcome this encouragement. The committee also want us to go further to hold companies to account and we fully intend to do so. We are currently working on our largest ever enforcement case, with live investigations into six companies.
“The committee has called on us to allow companies more money to invest in the network. We agree that more spending is needed.
“At the same time, we note that over the last two years, 14 of the 17 water companies have not spent the funds they have been granted to invest in the network and some have spent less than half.
“We will continue to work with companies, to ensure they deliver the change needed and meet their obligations to improve outcomes for customers and the environment.”
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has been approached for comment.