South West Water fined for polluting Cornish stream

Breaches of a sewage works discharge consent have cost South West Water £12,000 in fines and more than £7,000 in costs

Pollution from a sewage works has cost South West Water almost £20,000.

The company appeared before Bodmin magistrates on 5 October. It pleaded guilty to two breaches of the discharge consent for the Launcells (Grimscott) works near Bude, Cornwall, contravening Section 85(6) of the Water Resources Act 1991. It was fined £12,000 with £7,747 costs.

Effluent discharges from the works repeatedly polluted a watercourse between March 2009 and May 2010. They first came to light on 27 March 2009, when an annual agency inspection revealed poor maintenance.

Sewage fungus was found in an inspection chamber, a pipe, a filter bed outlet and in the receiving watercourse that flows into the Grimscott stream.

The works failed its inspection, before passing a re-inspection in April. But the court heard that it had passed, only because fungus had been manually removed.

The agency only became aware of this 18 months later, when South West Water prepared its report for magistrates.

Four subsequent site visits found sewage fungus in the watercourse and an agency study revealed a deterioration in the stream’s health. The works failed its April 2010 annual inspection and the re-inspection.       

Unlike larger works that must comply with numeric discharge consents, small works such as Launcells operate under a ‘descriptive consent’.

They must run and be maintained, so as to cause no adverse environmental impact from any effluents discharged.

But Launcells has no storm overflow, so during very wet weather it can struggle to cope with the volume of waste water received. It had polluted the watercourse eight times since March 2009, breaching its consent.

Alison Gidlow for the Environment Agency said: “This treatment works had been discharging poor quality effluent into surrounding watercourses, over a period of time. The pollution was caused by poor maintenance.”

A spokesperson for South West Water told ENDS: “We accept that the works experienced problems between March 2009 and May 2010. We apologise for the impact on water quality immediately downstream, but note that the wider water catchment was not affected.”

The company is investing £8,000 in improvements at the site, with further upgrades scheduled for 2012-13.

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