The Environment Agency was not the only organisation to pursue water companies in the courts last year over water pollution (ENDS Report 408, pp 61-62 ). Fish Legal, formerly the Anglers Conservation Association (ACA), also won £78,500 in civil damages and compensation.
The ACA, formed in 1948, changed its name to Fish Legal in January after becoming the legal arm of the Angling Trust, a merger of five angling organisations. It aims to secure compensation for its members where their enjoyment of fishing rights is harmed by pollution, over-abstraction or other damage.
Fish Legal settles most claims without issuing a formal compensation claim or before a case comes to court. It mounted only one court challenge last year, against United Utilities, which it lost.
The case related to an alleged loss of amenity following a release of sewage into the Cumbrian river Eamont, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. The release was caused by a pipe blocked with 51 tonnes of sediment. The discharge continued for two days but the Agency declined to prosecute.
Fish Legal claimed damages against the company at Penrith County Court in April but the court rejected the case, deeming the discharge to have been unforeseeable. Preston County Court heard the group’s appeal in January, claiming errors of fact in the original judgment. The result of the appeal was still pending as ENDS went to press.
The organisation was more successful in gaining out-of-court settlements against the company. United Utilities paid out £60,000 over the year for three incidents. All payments followed the issue of court proceedings.
The company paid £30,000 to Rochdale and District Angling Society for a series of flooding incidents, dating back to 2003, from the company’s Buersil reservoir. Chlorinated water was released through an overflow pipe and down a hillside, dumping several tonnes of silt into the society’s fish pools. Fish were either washed into a nearby river or left stranded on the fishery’s banks.
The society approached Fish Legal after the Agency decided not to pursue a criminal prosecution. The settlement was put towards restocking costs and dredging work.
United Utilities also provided £25,000 compensation to Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association in September. The firm was working as a contractor for Welsh Water at the Pontsticill water treatment plant in August 2006 when three tonnes of aluminium sulphate were lost into the Taf Fechan (ENDS Report 393, p 62 ).
The chemical killed about 23,000 fish, turning the river white for five kilometres and wiping out six years of restoration work. Fish Legal solicitor Justin Neal described the release as "a sudden and catastrophic poisoning of a whole ecosystem".
The settlement was in addition to an initial £22,000 goodwill payment to the association made by Welsh Water in April 2007.
Both United Utilities and Welsh Water were also each fined £16,500 by the Agency over the incident.
United Utilities’ final payout of the year of £5,000 was made a week before Christmas. Fish Legal issued court proceedings on behalf of an angling club based in Chorley, Lancashire, over sewage pollution that killed hundreds of fish. It was traced to a failure at the firm’s Lydd Grove sewage pumping station.
The Agency had sent a warning letter rather than pursue a prosecution for the discharge.
In July, Severn Trent Water agreed to pay £18,500 to a Gloucestershire angling club in compensation for discharging raw sewage into the Lydney canal. The negotiated settlement was reached without formal legal action.
Fish Legal welcomed the fact that the company admitted liability: "Because the water company was willing to settle, our lawyer’s job was made easier and the club will be able to get on with restocking the canal much sooner than if the company had fought the case," said Mark Lloyd, the Angling Trust’s chief executive.
A notable success for Fish Legal in 2007 was a £500,000 compensation and restocking payment negotiated with Thames Water following pollution of the river Wandle in London in September 2007 (see pp 61-62 ). The incident killed about 2 tonnes of coarse fish and set the restoration of the river back by ten years.
Although the water industry’s bill for environmental fines and compensation appears substantial, it is small beer compared with the fines levied by Ofwat for reporting irregularities last year.
Financial regulator Ofwat fined Severn Trent an unprecedented £35.8 million in July for misreporting performance data. The company also incurred a separate £2.22 million court fine following criminal prosecution for misreporting (ENDS Report 402, p 61 ).
Ofwat also fined Thames Water £9.7 million for similar lapses in April 2008.