Water firms refuse to link bosses’ bonuses to pollution targets
Water companies are “making a mockery” of attempts to link executive compensation to environmental performance by refusing to measure how much raw sewage ends up in rivers and seas, experts say.
Industry regulator Ofwat wants private water companies to align bosses’ bonuses with pollution targets.
But companies do not monitor the amount of wastewater discharged into the waterways.
Instead, they collect data about when the spills happen and how long they last.
Companies also face a deadline at the end of the year to monitor all 15,000 storm overflows across England and have committed to live monitoring wastewater discharges.
Bonus culture: Sarah Bentley of Thames Water (left) and Steven Mogford of United Utilities (right) have both made money despite their companies’ questionable environmental credentials
The discharges are usually legal and prevent sewage from entering homes and businesses when the system becomes overloaded.
But campaigners say weak regulators and budget cuts have allowed water companies to get away with a decades-long lack of investment in Victorian-era sewage networks.
In 2022, an average of 825 sewage leaks per day into England’s waterways, 19 percent less than the previous year.
According to the Environment Agency, they lasted more than 1.75 million hours in total. It said the reductions were largely due to reduced rainfall and severe drought, not any actions by the company.
And while companies monitor when spills occur and how long they last as part of a set of performance indicators used to set executive bonuses, none of the water companies contacted by the Mail said they have measured the amount of wastewater.
discharged into waterways.
Bonuses can run into hundreds of thousands of euros.
“This is a mockery of the goals,” said Jamie Woodward, professor of physical geography at the University of Manchester.
“We can only measure the improvement in performance with some confidence when there is much more transparency about the full scope of wastewater disposal.
“Wastewater is being discharged on an industrial scale across the country, posing a threat to public health and a nationwide destroyer of river ecosystems. A top executive in any other industry would be arrested for this magnitude of environmental damage.’
Woodward highlighted the case of United Utilities, the monopolistic water supplier to 7 million customers in North West England, responsible for 40 percent of all spills last year.
Its CEO Steven Mogford received a bonus of £727,000 last year as part of his £3.2 million salary package.
Eco-protest: Campaigners say weak regulators and budget cuts have allowed water companies to get away with decades of underinvestment
United has a £230 million investment at 15 of its 575 treatment sites to reduce spillage “by more than 10 million tonnes a year – the equivalent of 4,000 Olympic swimming pools,” a company spokesman said.
“If United has a reliable model for measuring volume, why not share it with the public and the wider industry?
” asked Woodward.
“It’s completely ridiculous that United has a top four-star rating for environmental performance.”
Thames Water chief executive Sarah Bentley, who says he is ‘heartbroken’ by the impact of sewage spills, has declined to say whether she will receive another bonus this year after earning £2million in 2022. That included a £496,000 bonus.
Campaigners are not impressed. Joan Fennelly, from local swimming group Henley Mermaids, said: ‘Until executive bonuses are aimed at driving higher environmental performance standards and profits, we will continue to see the lime streams entering our River Thames continue to deteriorate and die. .’
Some water companies tried to dismiss the lack of monitoring. Anglian, whose CEO Peter Simpson bagged a £338,000 bonus as part of his £1.3m package, said ‘the vast majority’ of the storm flooding was rainwater.
But Woodward hit back: “Would the CEO of Anglian like to fill his bath with 5 percent raw sewage?”
Ofwat confirmed that so-called ‘event duration monitors’ that companies install only measure the number and duration of leaks, not the volume.
It has also laid out plans to block dividend payments – which have totaled an estimated £66bn since privatization three decades ago – to tell boards to ‘consider’ environmental and customer performance when deciding on payouts.
But it has only fined one company — Southern Water — since the introduction of wastewater spill rules in 1994.
United said it used “modeled data” but was not required by regulators “to measure or report discharge volumes.”
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