UNITED Utilities has pledged to make changes so it can continue playing its part to improve river health.

The water company has issed a response to The Fly in the Ointment column, published on June 4, titled 'Just how sorry are water companies for pumping poo into our rivers?'

In his letter to the Guardian, Mike Gauterin, the customer services director at United Utilities said: "The water industry was privatised 34 years ago to bring investment into a sector that was facing the massive challenge of new EU regulations on wastewater treatment and drinking water quality.

"Places like the Fylde Coast and Liverpool had no sewage treatment at all and multi-million pound schemes were needed to build treatment works and sewer systems for the first time.

"Since then, United Utilities has invested more than £20 billion in improvements to water and wastewater services.

"Here in the North West bathing waters have improved from a 20 per cent pass rate in 1988, to a 97 per cent pass rate in 2022.

"Water leakage has halved since the early 1990s. We’ve delivered on all the investment priorities set by regulators and we’ve kept bill increases below the rate of inflation over the last 15 years.

"And over these last 15 years, we have typically spent £800 million every year improving and maintaining the infrastructure – more than double the amount paid out to shareholders.

"We have provided new jobs and opportunities, with attractive apprenticeship and graduate schemes for the 6,000 colleagues who work directly for us and supporting more than 22,000 jobs in the wider regional supply chain, helping to generate economic growth and create a stronger North West.

"We know there is more to do and we understand that people want to see an end to the use of storm overflows, a design feature of wastewater systems across the UK and overseas for more than a hundred years.

"We are committed to making the changes so we continue to play our part in improving river health.

"We’re planning an investment programme of around £3 billion to tackle storm overflows by 2030 and we’ve been given approval to bring forward £900m now so we can start sooner and deliver other improvements to river health.

"We can only deliver this huge programme with funding from our shareholders, as customer bills alone could not pay for investment at this scale and pace.

"Shareholders, many of whom manage UK pension funds, expect a return on their investment and if we did not pay dividends we would not be able to attract the level of funding we need for the upgrades required.

"Customers have always paid towards new infrastructure over its lifetime, perhaps 50 years or more, which keeps any bill increases as small as possible.

"We never take it for granted and we also know many people are finding it hard to pay everyday living costs right now and that’s why we provide one of the most extensive support packages in the utility sector.

"More than 330,000 customers have benefited from our support since 2020 and we have a £280 million package of schemes which offer a range of financial help, from payment breaks to caps on bills.

"Anyone who feels they are struggling to pay their water bill can get in touch and we will look at their individual circumstances to determine the most appropriate support for them."