South West Water has refused to reveal the number of sewage discharges into the River Otter this year, citing the ongoing industry-wide investigation by Ofwat. 

In June the water regulator said it was including South West Water (SWW) in its inquiry into the potentially illegal dumping of raw sewage by privatised water companies. 

The Independent county councillor for the Otter Valley, Jess Bailey, has long been calling for stricter scrutiny of water companies’ environmental performance. In September she submitted a Freedom of Information request to South West Water, asking for this year's sewage discharge figures into the River Otter. 

On October 27 SWW replied, saying it would not be providing the information. The company said: "On this occasion, we have decided that the public interest in the information being disclosed whilst the investigations described above are ongoing does not outweigh the need to ensure a fair investigation and to protect the course of justice that stands to be adversely affected in the event the information sought is disclosed at this stage. 

“It is important that the regulators are given the opportunity to make their own assessment following their investigations and that the investigations are protected against the risk of any undue influence from outside sources that might be caused by the prior release of relevant information into the public domain. 

Cllr Bailey said: "This is a completely outrageous situation. SWW are hiding behind the current investigation in an attempt to withhold information which is of overriding public interest.  

“Of course we must be entitled to know how much sewage is being discharged into our rivers, regardless of whether there is an investigation.” 

She said she has asked SWW for an internal review, which needs to take place before she can submit a complaint to the Information Commissioner.  

In 2021 sewage was discharged by SWW into the River Otter for 8457 hours, including 723 hours at Fluxton and 1974 hours in Honiton. Last year a Freedom of Information request by Cllr Bailey revealed that sewage was discharged in Honiton continually from January 16 to April 10. 

In June, following the news of the OFWAT investigation, SWW said it is taking the regulator’s decision ‘very seriously’ and would provide any information required. It also said it was undertaking a major environmental programme to reduce its use of storm overflows, maintain bathing water quality and remove its impact on river water quality by 2030.