UK water companies are suggesting an increase in bills by £156 annually by 2030 to pay for infrastructure enhancements and reduce sewage discharges.
The proposed hike would facilitate a near doubling of infrastructure expenditure to £96bn and support the construction of ten new reservoirs, according to industry representatives.
However, these suggestions are being made amidst public outrage over the regular discharge of sewage into water bodies and the ongoing financial strain on households.
The water industry’s regulatory body, Ofwat, is currently reviewing these plans for approval.
If approved, the water companies highlight these “unprecedented investment proposals” will ensure the nation’s long-term water supply.
Water UK, the industry’s representative body, has ambitious plans for the “most significant modernisation of sewers since the Victorian era”.
They aim to reduce leakages by 25 percent by the end of the decade compared to 2020 figures.
The companies plan to decrease sewage spills into waterways by over 140,000 annually by 2030.
300,000 sewage discharges in 2022
In 2022, water companies discharged sewage into rivers and seas over 300,000 times.
If the regulator approves the plans, the cost of these upgrades will be distributed over several years.
But the average yearly bill will see an increase of £84 in 2025, which will incrementally rise to an additional £156 by 2030.
David Henderson, the CEO of Water UK, defended the water companies against criticism over their performance.
He emphasized the £200bn investment since privatisation, which is nearly double the rate prior to privatisation.
He said: “Drinking water quality is now at a global pinnacle.
“Leakage rates have decreased by a third.
“Ammonia and phosphorus levels in our rivers have been reduced by two-thirds.
“The number of beaches rated as excellent has increased sevenfold.
“Moreover, since 2010, water bills have, on average, decreased by almost 20 percent.”
“Customers should not pay the price for poor performance”
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey broadly welcomed the investment plans but said Ofwat should ensure customers do not “pay the price for poor performance”.
She said the regulator “should use the full powers we have given them on behalf of consumers”.
Ms Coffey added: “Now is the time for water companies to step up and deliver lasting changes for future generations.”
“Remarkably disastrous strategy”
The musician Feargal Sharkey, a clean water advocate, criticized the proposals, calling them a “remarkably disastrous strategy” for the industry.
He pointed out Ofwat had previously stated these companies had already been compensated for the development, construction, and maintenance of an efficient sewage system.
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Ofwat recently directed companies to refund £114m to consumers via reduced bills after they failed to meet essential targets.
The regulator’s assessment revealed that no company achieved the top performance measure.
Several companies were categorized as “lagging”, with the rest deemed “average”.
None were classified as “leading”. If these companies don’t meet the set targets, Ofwat will limit the revenue they can collect from consumers.
In the upcoming year, all but five providers will have to reduce their bills, offering a form of refund to their customers.