Improving transparency around our environmental performance

In October 2019, the water regulator Ofwat published a Final Notice which included plans for us to commit to greater transparency on environmental performance, and publish available information on our website.

Since then, we've developed content on the main Southern Water website which, where possible, provides relevant information on environmental wastewater performance, including:

  • pollution incidents
  • flow and spill reporting
  • wastewater treatment works final effluent compliance
  • regional bathing water compliance results
  • emissions
  • river levels

As some of this data and information is provided to us by the Environment Agency, we’ve worked with them to publish and link to relevant Agency data and environmental information on our site.

We also provide updates on the environmental improvement work we carry out via investment programmes, catchment management and our partnership working programmes.

We’ll continue to share spill notifications with stakeholders for priority coastal locations on our Beachbuoy page and will continue improving the information that’s available and published on our new web pages.

To develop this content we’ve sought the input of our customers and stakeholders, and tested it with them before we launched it.

The information is now accessible within in our environmental performance dashboard:

Visit our environmental performance dashboard

Questions & answers

Why do you need to work with the Environment Agency to publish environmental information?

Like all water companies, we collect compliance, spills and pollution data and we supply data to the Environment Agency on an ongoing basis. The pollutions data is not finalised with the Environment Agency until the following calendar year. The number of Category 1, 2 and 3 pollution events is included in our published Annual Report.

The Environment Agency collates information from a number of sources and then publishes it on its website. We will be providing links to this information with our new web content.

Why can’t you publish everything about pollution incidents as they happen?

It’s necessary to carefully investigate what may appear to be pollution events. We often do this in collaboration with others, including the Environment Agency. These investigations may involve reviewing technical information, visiting the location and looking carefully at the watercourse and taking water quality samples.

Pollution incidents have to be categorised based on the level of harm, or potential harm, to the environment in accordance with Environment Agency criteria and procedures. To ensure that published information is accurate, the categorisation of all pollution incidents isn’t finalised by the Environment Agency until the end of the reporting year.

What is Beachbuoy?

Beachbuoy gives you the most up-to-date information on water quality in your area – free of charge.

We’re currently piloting our Beachbuoy scheme at two harbours in our region, as well as a small selection of bathing waters. Langstone and Chichester harbours were chosen for the pilot as they are also used as recreational waters, along with the bathing waters at Hill Head, Ventnor, Bexhill and Joss Bay. As part of our continuous improvement of this service, we plan to provide similar information for other bathing waters in the near future, and will include this with our new web content.

What does Southern Water do about pollution incidents?

Where there is some identifiable environmental harm arising from an incident (e.g. a high level of ammonia in a watercourse, detritus in the water, some localised impact on flora or animal or fish health), that is normally dealt with at the time of the event by the response personnel in consultation with the Environment Agency and any relevant local authority. We have a 24/7 incident response team.

Where necessary, immediate remediation measures including re-oxygenating the water, flushing through, sand bagging, litter pick and restocking fish are deployed. In parallel with this, the root cause of the event is identified and necessary actions taken to avoid recurrence.

I heard that Ofwat found Southern Water has been polluting beaches and waterways…

Ofwat’s findings in the Penalty Notice were purely about regulatory obligations in respect of which Ofwat has jurisdiction. Ofwat has not made any findings about any actual environmental harm or environmental permit failures. These matters are dealt with by the Environment Agency, as the environmental regulator.

We provide information on pollutions in our Annual Report and we provide much more detail to the Environment Agency on pollution incidents. 

What is Southern Water doing to improve its environmental performance?

Our Environment+ programme looks at all aspects of our environmental compliance and performance. Alongside wastewater treatment works compliance, it also focuses on improving river quality, reducing pollution incidents and flooding, and enhancing bathing water quality. Details of the work being carried out by the Environment+ programme can be found in our Annual Report. We have recruited a team of environmental compliance advisors and created environmental champions across our organisation to increase environmental awareness.

The Ofwat Notice refers to spill events occurring over many hours. What does this mean in terms of the environmental impact?

The duration of a spill alone would not be conclusive of whether or not it has had an environmental impact. For example, the spill flow may be low volume (possibly a trickle), and how diluted it is will vary (up to highly-diluted). The environmental impact is also related to the state and the size of the environment receiving that spill.

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