Unions are balloting Environment Agency officials on taking industrial action after rejecting its offer of a 3% average pay rise.
Prospect, which represents professionals such as scientists and engineers, will ballot EA members from next Wednesday for one month, while Unison began its month-long ballot on Monday.
Amid concerns over a decade of pay cuts and staffing issues, EA staff rejected a pay increase of between 2.6% and 3.9% for 2022-23 alongside a one-off bonus.
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Our members work in the Environment Agency because they are passionate about the environment and want to protect it.
“But after more than a decade where, barring one or two years, they have seen real-terms pay cuts, this year’s offer is the final straw.
“The Environment Agency is already struggling to fulfil its regulatory duties due to resourcing issues and experienced staff leaving. You only have to look at the ongoing sewage crisis to see the impact cuts have had on the agency.”
Prospect has previously warned that the EA is mired in “severe recruitment difficulties” for some roles because of poor pay. It said a vacancy rate approaching 50% in some teams is preventing the agency from tackling a “growing backlog” of permitting applications from waste and industrial site operators.
This has limited the EA’s ability to fight pollution at a time of heightened public concern about the impacts on rivers from water-company and industrial effluent discharges, the union added.
Chief executive Sir James Bevan wrote to then-environment secretary George Eustice in July expressing concerns about the hardship some staff were experiencing and asking him to lobby for an improved offer for civil servants.
The ballots from Prospect and Unison come after civil service union PCS began a nationwide ballot of members on 26 September, while workers across many parts of the public sector have already gone on strike this summer.
“This is an issue that is coming to a head across the whole public sector," Clancy warned.
"People have had enough and the government simply hoping the problem will go away is not going to cut it."
An EA spokesperson said: “We want to achieve the best possible settlement for our employees under government pay guidance. Since July we have engaged with trade unions on pay negotiations; however, we have been unable to reach agreement.
“As always we are working hard to ensure that we can respond effectively to any incidents that may arise, whilst supporting our hard-working teams who deliver for the environment on the ground each day.”
The agency is undertaking contingency planning in case the threat of industrial action comes to fruition, CSW understands.