The UK's Environment Agency has come down heavily on the bosses of nine water and sewerage companies in England, calling for their chief executives and board members to be jailed.

The agency assessed nine such companies for the year 2021 and found that their performance had fallen to the lowest level. The report revealed that most of these companies failed to fulfil their objectives despite continuing enforcement action against those breaching environmental laws.

The companies have continued to allow sewage to be discharged into water bodies in the UK, and the sector has performed much worse on pollution. As many as seven water companies reported 62 serious pollution incidents, the highest since 2013.

"There has also been no overall improvement for several years in total incident numbers or compliance with conditions for discharging treated wastewater," read the report.

Southern Water and South West Water received just one-star ratings, while Anglian, Thames, Wessex, and Yorkshire were rated only two stars. Meanwhile, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and United Utilities did slightly better, getting four stars each in the evaluation.

"It's appalling that water companies' performance on pollution has hit a new low. Water quality won't improve until water companies get a grip on their operational performance. For years, people have seen executives and investors handsomely rewarded while the environment pays the price," said Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency.

The agency noted that the fines being handed down by the courts have not been able to deter these firms from taking the environment for granted. It has vowed to "make it too painful for them to continue like this."

"We need courts to impose much higher fines. Investors should no longer see England's water monopolies as a one-way bet," added Boyd.

Earlier this year, a House of Commons Committee report had said that water companies have been dumping untreated or partially treated sewage in rivers on a regular basis.

River Thames
File photo: A boat makes its way across the Thames through smog Dan Kitwood/Getty Images