A watchdog has slammed South West Water for not being “honest, open and transparent” about drought risks, documents have revealed. 

South West Water was inadequately prepared for England’s 2022 heatwave and was “not honest” with regulators about the risk a drought posed to the company’s water supplies, according to an Environment Agency (EA) assessment obtained by Greenpeace’s investigative unit Unearthed. 

The environmental regulator told counterparts at Ofwat that South West Water (SWW) had shown “complacency” prior to the drought and “a lack of understanding of their own supply system.”  

Documents obtained by Unearthed under freedom of information laws reveal the environmental watchdog’s scathing assessment of SWW’s drought preparedness. 

“SWW were not honest, open and transparent with regulators about their drought projections and potential risks to security of supply,” the EA wrote in a July email to Ofwat. The email said “SWW acted too late” in response to the drought, and that this “presented a genuine risk of loss of supply in West Cornwall”.  

In another passage, the EA also told Ofwat that before the drought SWW showed “a lack of understanding of their own supply system, considering themselves as a potential water donor in the future, only to find the reverse is true.” 

Prior to the 2022 heatwave, SWW’s long-term water management plan anticipated that it would have enough water to be able to donate supplies to neighbouring companies experiencing shortages. By contrast, its latest plan states that it needs to close a gap of over 200 million litres of water per day by 2050 in order to meet demand.  

The environmental regulator told Ofwat that SWW’s drought plan prior to the 2022 heatwave was “not ‘drought ready’”. This meant that new water sources and permits had to “be considered, applied for and permitted during the drought instead of planned in advance.” It added that the company had “not adequately managed consistently increasing demand in the years prior to the drought”. 

England’s privatised water companies have come under increased public scrutiny in recent years, as a result of pollution incidents, spiralling debt abd dividends. 

In response to Unearthed’s investigation, Megan Corton Scott, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said:  “South West Water have failed in tackling the sewage crisis, failed to prepare for drought, failed to even understand their own supply system and failed to be honest with the regulator, but they did succeed in raising shareholder dividends at the end of last year. “