Can water companies be trusted to monitor themselves?

Anglian Water fined £150,000 for falsifying information.

The Anglers' Conservation Association (ACA) congratulates the Environment Agency for investigating and successfully prosecuting Anglian Water for a series of pollution offences in Newmarket.  However, the case demonstrates clearly why 'Operator Self Monitoring' (OSM) - a proposed new scheme whereby water companies would monitor their own environmental performance - is fundamentally flawed.

The company was fined £150,000 for four pollution events from its sewage treatment works in Newmarket to the No 1 Public Drain, on one occasion bringing about the death of 1,200 fish.  This level of fine is unusually high and reflects the fact that a manager at the company either by himself, or through other employees of the company, removed, destroyed and falsified information in the site log book which recorded levels of ammonia in the discharge.

This internal cover-up was only discovered after an employee blew the whistle on the manager.  The ACA believes that this calls into question whether or not water companies can be trusted to produce reliable information under the proposals for OSM.  The new scheme would see the water companies monitoring their own discharges, with their records being audited through spot checks by the Environment Agency.  The proposals for OSM were opposed by angling and conservation organisations - and even the water companies themselves - when they were put out for consultation in 2007, but the EA has indicated that it intends to press ahead with them anyway.  The move is part of the Government's 'Better Regulation' initiative.

Mark Lloyd, Executive Director of the ACA said: "In our consultation responses and in meetings with the EA the ACA has vigorously opposed these proposals specifically because site managers might cover up failures in the performance of their works.  This is exactly what has happened here and we hope that it will make the Agency and the Government think again about putting privatised water companies in charge of monitoring how much pollution they cause.  These companies need to be rigorously regulated and externally monitored to ensure that when they pollute, they pay."