Sir Ed Davey accused the Tories of “allowing water companies to pump raw sewage into our precious rivers and lakes while awarding themselves obscene bonuses”.
“Just like the millions paid out to bankers during the financial crisis, the public will find this hard to stomach,” he said.
Feargal Sharkey tweeted: “Now I have to say that does seem like a rather good idea. Might it also help explain why I’ve had the CEO of a water company emailing this morning asking for a meeting, hmm?”
The analysis of company records showed executives at England’s water companies were paid £48m in 2020 and 2021 – including £27.6m in bonuses, benefits and incentives.
The bonuses are “obscene” given 1,000 sewage spills a day were recorded in 2021.
They claimed United Utilities paid out the largest package of bonuses, worth nearly £6m, followed by Severn Trent (£5.5m) and Anglian Water (£3.5m).
In the same 2020-21 period, water companies made £2.7bn in operating profits, according to the analysis.
Davey said the bosses should hand back their bonuses “to help clean up their mess”.
Green Party peer Jenny Jones said “much stronger action” was needed to tackle the “sewage dumping scandal”.
Jones called for water companies to be brought back into public ownership to ensure “proper accountability”, but in the meantime, introduce a “much tougher watchdog… to properly enforce the protection of our rivers and coastlines with heavy fines on companies that continue to carelessly pollute them.”
The environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “A holistic approach to cleaning up our rivers is a top priority for Conservatives and we have introduced the strongest measures ever to tackle this and sewage discharges through the Environment Act and the government direction to Ofwat.”