Statement on River Mersey pollution

United Utilities confirms it is not responsible for the pollution that was seen in the Mersey at the weekend.

An immediate and thorough investigation found no issues at any of our assets in the vicinity of the pollution. We did, however, find evidence that toilet and other waste had been thrown directly into the river where a temporary caravan site had been set up on Otterspool Promenade. This evidence has been given to the Environment Agency (EA) and to Liverpool City Council. 

A second pollution incident on the same weekend further downstream at Widnes is, again, unrelated to UU. Evidence linking that to illegal discharges directly into the river from a local factory has also been given to the EA.

Around 200 reported pollution incidents a year are proven not to be linked to UU’s operations following thorough investigations. These two recent incidents demonstrate that a variety of sources have an impact on water courses, with the EA estimating that 70% is due to run off from highways and agricultural fields, private septic tanks, private drainage being incorrectly connected and other illegal activity. The remaining 30% of the impact is due to wastewater treatment processes and combined storm overflows (CSOs).

  • UU has invested £1.2bn improving CSOs to reduce the amount and impact of spills
  • In 1988, 23 of the 29 designated bathing waters in the North West failed mandatory standards. In 2021, 93% of bathing waters were classified as Good or Excellent and all met designated minimum standards
  • The River Mersey has seen a transformation since its low point in the mid-1980s when it was known as the dirtiest river in Europe. UU was a key partner in the 25 year Mersey Basin Campaign leading to an array of aquatic life that’s returned, alongside the economic regeneration of the waterfront.  UU’s £200m extension to Liverpool wastewater treatment works in 2016 is an example of our continuing investment 
  • Our Better Rivers: Better North West plan will see a further £230m invested to 2025, leading to 184km of improved waterways. And we are developing our plans for further investment between 2025-2030
  • Many UU shareholders are pension funds, and individuals who have held their shares for many years, helping us invest £15 billion since 2015 in maintaining and improving services for 7 million customers, ensuring affordable bills and providing £72m of their funds to help those struggling to pay. There has been no increase in average household water bills in the North West again this year
  • On leakage, UU currently has the lowest ever levels reported in the North West and has met our target for the 16th year running. However, we know there is more we can do and between 2020 and 2025, we are reducing leakage by a further 15%