United Utilities and Anglian notch up more offences

United Utilities and Anglian Water appear to be vying to be the most polluting water company in Britain. Both appeared in court again in recent weeks - adding to their already poor performance over the past year and to continuing concern about the sector's track record.

The Environment Agency has already flagged up the worrying increase in non-compliance by water companies. A report last summer, dealing with business environmental performance in 2001, warned that the sector's record was "unacceptable" and urged firms to "refocus management attention" (ENDS Report 330, p 12 ).

The situation appears to have worsened during 2002, and much of the deterioration can be laid at the door of two companies - Anglian and United Utilities.

Another prosecution of Anglian Water in December brought its total fines for sewage pollution offences for 2002 to almost £0.5 million. The case was heard by Bedford magistrates on 23 December, when the company pleaded guilty to causing sewage effluent to be discharged to the Silsoe Brook last April, contrary to section 85(3) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

The discharge was notified to the Agency by the water company, which reported that crude sewage from a blocked sewer in Silsoe high street was overflowing into the brook. Officers found high levels of ammonia in the watercourse as well as growths of sewage fungus on the river bed.

The court fined Anglian £15,000, with costs of £2,894. The company also paid for a month-long clean-up of the brook.

After the hearing, an Agency spokesman expressed the hope that the prosecution "will have a deterrent effect on Anglian Water, leading to increased inspection of their sewerage systems."

The case brought Anglian's sewage pollution fines for 2002 to £485,000 for a total of 14 offences. This is a substantial deterioration over 2001, when it was fined only £59,000 for four offences. However, it still ranked as the second-worst water company polluter in an Agency league of poor performers, behind United Utilities.

Anglian's biggest penalties in 2002 were a £200,000 fine following a private prosecution for a sewage discharge from the Shotgate sewage works on the river Crouch (ENDS Report 326, p 54 ), and £190,000 for eight offences at its Stewartby sewage works (ENDS Report 325, p 55 ).

Meanwhile, United Utilities chalked up 16 convictions in 2002 with fines totalling £329,900 (ENDS Report 335, pp 57-59 ). This is likely to earn it the top spot in the poor performers' league.

United began 2003 in the same vein as last year, with two early convictions. The first case was heard by Aberystwyth magistrates on 14 January. It concerned an effluent treatment plant operated by United Utilities Industrial which treats discharges from three food businesses on Felinfach industrial estate, near Lampeter.

The court heard that Agency officers visited the site last April to find partially treated effluent overflowing from two tanks and entering the Afon Aeron via a ditch. Foamy effluent was also being washed into the watercourse by operators hosing down the site.

The incident had a limited environmental impact on the main river and this probably influenced the court, which fined the company £2,000 with £666 costs after it pleaded guilty to causing or knowingly permitting polluting matter to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85 of the 1991 Act. United Utilities was also prosecuted for a similar incident in 2000.

After the hearing, an Agency spokesman commented that the incident was "due to the failure of a key control mechanism within the treatment plant. The circumstances were aggravated in that United Utilities Industrial had failed to notify Environment Agency Wales...The Agency will take into account self-reporting of incidents when deciding on the appropriate level of enforcement action."

The second incident involved a discharge of sewage effluent from Clapham sewage works near Clitheroe last January. Skipton magistrates heard that, after settling in a tank, effluent passed into soak-away lagoons. However, an Agency officer noticed that the lagoons were overflowing to the Clapham beck. Despite a warning to the company, the discharge continued over two days.

The Agency told the court that the company had been aware that the works was unsatisfactory for many years and that a permanent solution was required. The works needed constant monitoring to prevent escapes of effluent.

United admitted causing sewage effluent to be discharged to controlled waters, contrary to section 85(3)(a) of the 1991 Act. It was fined £19,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,256.

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