Farmers blamed for releasing phosphate into watercourses in the southeast are demanding to know whether Southern Water was in fact responsible, after the company was slapped with a record £126 million fine.
Regulator Ofwat said the utility company was being run ‘with scant regard for its responsibilities to society and the environment’ after spills of wastewater from its sewage plants and a deliberate misreporting of its performance.
More than £123m is expected to be handed back to customers through rebates over the next five years.
But NFU West Sussex council delegate David Exwood said the industry had questions over what had been going on and where.
Speaking at NFU council last week, Mr Exwood said: “I would like to know what sites has this been happening at, how long has it been going on, and has farming been unfairly blamed for the water quality in the rivers below those sites?”
He told Farmers Guardian that farmers had historically been blamed for the phosphate in river catchments.
“We have seen what has been going on in rivers and have had questions for many years,” he said.
“It is not about farming doing less, but about a full understanding of who has been putting what into the rivers.
“We cannot underestimate how serious this is. This has just tapped into years of concern.”
The Environment Agency said it took the matter ‘extremely seriously’ and is pursuing its own criminal investigation into Southern Water.
“The environment aspect of the investigation is ongoing and we expect to commence court proceedings soon,” a spokesperson said.
“This is a complex, live investigation and we are unable to comment any further at this stage.”