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United Utilities Water Limited fined £800,000 for taking too much water from the environment

Following a prosecution by the Environment Agency, United Utilities Water Limited have been fined a total of £800,000 at Warrington Magistrates Court after illegally abstracting 22 billion litres of water from boreholes in Lancashire – enough to fill 8,800 Olympic swimming pools.

The over abstraction caused additional stress on the environment during a period of very dry weather in 2018 and led to a significant decline in the water level available in the Fylde Aquifer.

The aquifer, an underground water storage area, which helps to support healthy river flows and is an important public water source, will take years to recover.

The case was brought after an investigation by the Environment Agency revealed that United Utilities had taken more water than allowed by five of their abstraction licences in the in the Franklaw and Broughton Borehole Complex.

United Utilities charge their customers over £3 for every 1,000 litres of water used, so it’s estimated they made a £6m profit from the water illegally abstracted.

Feargal Sharkey, committed water campaigner tweeted:

“So @unitedutilities over abstract 22bn litres of water & get fined £800,000.

“Result you might say.

“UU charge over £3 for every 1,000 litres of water or in other words they made £66m from selling that illegally obtained water to the customers.”

In another tweet he said, “I assume the @EnvAgency will be appealing that sentence and demanding that the courts recover every single penny of the £66,000,000 worth of income the company generated by selling that illegally obtained water to their costumers.”

Carol Holt, Environment Agency Area Director for Lancashire said:

“Our priority is to ensure clean and plentiful water for people, the economy and the environment in England and we welcome today’s sentencing which exposes unacceptable practices from United Utilities Water Limited over a prolonged period of time.

“While water companies are allowed to abstract water from the environment, over abstraction, especially during times of prolonged dry weather, has damaging impacts to our environment.

“Our actions as regulator have led to today’s sentencing and we will continue to strive for a better water sector across the country to protect our precious water supplies now, and for the future.

“We are transforming our approach to regulation, holding the water industry to account and working with water companies such as United Utilities Water Limited to help them improve.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“It is absolutely right that companies that harm our environment are held to account by the courts, as has happened with United Utilities today.

“Through our Plan for Water we are driving forward work to improve our water system and deliver the change people want to see – including tougher enforcement, tighter regulation of water companies and increased investment.”

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