Water companies start year with £20,000 in fines

Three water companies started their year with convictions for pollution offences. Scottish Water, South West Water and Wessex Water clocked up fines and costs totalling £22,466 in January.

Scottish Water earned the biggest fine of £10,000 for polluting Torry Burn, near Cairneyhill in West Fife.

The prosecution was the first for Scottish Water under the new Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005, which came into force last April (ENDS Report 375, p 46 ).

The firm pleaded guilty to contravening its water use licence, contrary to section 40(1)(d) of the Regulations, at Dunfermline sheriff court on 23 January.

A member of the public reported a discharge entering the burn from Cairneyhill sewage pumping station in April 2006. On visiting the site, SEPA officers discovered the river was grey and smelt of sewage and was heavily contaminated with sewage fungus downstream of the pumping station.

The leak had also affected invertebrate communities for up to a kilometre.

  • Cullompton magistrates fined South West Water £6,000 and £1,500 in costs on 16 January. The firm pleaded guilty to breaching discharge consent conditions for one of its largest Devon sewage works, contrary to section 85(6) of the Water Resources Act 1991.
  • An Environment Agency officer visiting Countess Wear sewage works in October 2005 found the storm tanks, used for storing raw sewage during heavy rain, discharging into the river Exe.

    Discharges are permitted if the tanks overfill during storms but the flow rate through the works was not high enough to justify the tanks’ use at the time.

    The Agency blamed the problem on the plant’s pumping station and estimated that sewage had been discharging into the Exe at up to 400 litres per second for more than a week. In total, more than 84,000 cubic metres were released unnecessarily, posing a risk to shellfish beds further downstream.

  • Wessex Water was fined £4,000 with £966 in costs after polluting the river Avon at Salisbury in August 2006. The river is an important salmon spawning ground and designated as a special area of conservation under the EU habitats Directive.
  • After a member of the public spotted the sewage, an Agency officer traced it to a culvert known as Bugmore Drain and from there to a storm sewer overflow. The eventual source of the problem was a sewer blocked with silt. Wessex had already received a warning from the Agency after another blockage in the same area three months earlier.

    Wessex used tankers to remove sewage from the blocked sewer and Bugmore Drain. But the Agency says the river still suffered "significant contamination", which could have been avoided if the company had monitored its overflows better.

    Wessex has now fitted a recording device at the overflow.

    Appearing before Salisbury magistrates on 9 January, Wessex pleaded guilty to causing sewage to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85(1) of the 1991 Act.

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