Water companies notch up £14,700 in fines

Sewage leaks and a breach of discharge consent have cost Southern, South West and Welsh Water more than £14,700 in fines over recent weeks. But water company prosecutions over the first quarter of 2007 were down on last year’s record levels.

The water industry clocked up more than £650,000 in pollution fines last year after the average fine per offence rose to nearly £8,000 (ENDS Report 384, p 53 ). The total for the first quarter of this year stands at just £75,200 - 12% of last year’s. The average fine across the 15 prosecutions tracked by ENDS is only £5,785.

Fines for similar offences vary across the country. Thames Water, one of the firms which regularly attracts large fines, has not been prosecuted so far this year.

  • Southern Water received the largest fine of recent weeks - £8,000 and £2,010 in costs - for allowing sewage to enter a stream near Herne Bay in Kent last May.

    A fishing competition was being held on a beach by the stream’s outfall on the day of the leak. Competitors had to be warned to be careful if they planned to eat the fish they had caught.

    The leak in nearby Bishopstone Glen was spotted by a member of the public, who alerted the Environment Agency.

    Agency officers traced the problem to a sewage pumping station in the village of Beltinge. An airlock had caused sewage to back up in an inspection chamber and overflow into the stream. The Agency criticised Southern for not having an alarm system at the pumping station.

    Appearing before Canterbury magistrates on 4 April, the company pleaded guilty to allowing polluting matter to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

  • Neath magistrates fined Welsh Water £3,500 and £400 in costs on 14 March. The firm admitted it had allowed sewage to leak into the river Clydach, a tributary of the river Neath, contrary to section 85(1) of the 1991 Act.

    The leak in July 2006 came from a collapsed foul sewer in woods in the Bryncoch area of Neath. The Agency investigated the incident, finding that the river was foul-smelling and grey. About 80 metres of its bed was coated with sewage fungus.

    Welsh Water reduced the leak by increasing the pumping rate and replaced the pipe the next day.

    A similar incident occurred in the same place in September 2004 but the company had been let off with a formal warning.

  • North Devon magistrates fined South West Water £3,200 and £1,224 in costs on 22 March after it admitted breaching its discharge consent at Pyworthy sewage works, contrary to section 85(6) of the 1991 Act.

    The effluent from the works, near Holsworthy in Devon, breached ammonia limits four times in less than a year, prompting the Agency to brand the site "poorly run" and "failing".

    The Agency monitors discharge from the works 12 times a year. Only two breaches are permitted.

    Ammonia levels were almost nine times the permitted 8 milligram per litre limit on one occasion and four times the limit on another. The works discharges into Derril Water, a high-quality river suitable for salmon and sea trout.

    The company was unable to explain the first two breaches in August and September 2005. It blamed the next breach in January 2006 on a defect in the sludge pipework. The final failure in June 2006 was the result of a hole in a desludging pipe which according to the company has since been repaired.