Water firms notch up £40,000 for breaches

Sewage leaks and overabstraction have cost water companies nearly £40,000 in fines and court costs over recent weeks. Severn Trent and Yorkshire Water have both been prosecuted twice.

Yorkshire Water’s first fine of £6,000 plus £1,827 in costs was for allowing polluting matter to enter Clifton beck in Brighouse, contrary to section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

The beck has a history of pollution caused by overflows from a combined sewer which frequently becomes blocked. There were a string of incidents between 2003 and 2005, and Yorkshire was fined £2,400 in 2004 (ENDS Report 351, p 60 ).

The firm finally installed a telemetry system in early 2006 but, by April, it had failed. The sensors continued to operate, showing sewage illegally discharging into the stream nine times over the following two months.

The final incident, on 19 June, killed a third of the wildlife over a mile of the stream and pushed its biological oxygen demand (BOD) from 1.3 milligrams per litre to 55.3mg/l.

Appearing before Halifax magistrates on 12 April, Yorkshire pleaded guilty to the offence but argued that the blockage had been caused by a third party. The magistrates considered that the company had failed to take account of the site’s previous pollution history or respond quickly enough to prevent pollution.

Yorkshire was in court again 11 days later to admit to breaching its discharge consent for Neiley sewage works in Honley, contrary to section 85(6) of the 1991 Act.

On 24 April, Huddersfield magistrates heard that the works was allowed to discharge treated effluent into the river Holme on the condition the BOD did not exceed 21mg/l. Up to three breaches were permitted per year but Environment Agency sampling showed the works had exceeded the limit five times in 2005.

The company was fined £10,000 - £6,000 for the first offence and £4,000 for the second - and ordered to pay £754 in costs.

The Agency said the river Holme had failed to meet its water quality standard for 6.8 kilometres downstream of the works during 2005.

  • Severn Trent Water was fined £4,000 with £1,420 in costs by Kidderminster magistrates on 24 April. The firm pleaded guilty to exceeding its licensed abstraction volume at boreholes in the nearby village of Chaddesley Corbett, contrary to sections 24(1)(a) and 4(b) of the 1991 Act.

    The groundwater in the area is sensitive because it feeds the Elmley brook, which is designated as an site of special scientific interest because it is home to rare fish.

    The firm is allowed to take 6.9 megalitres of water per day but it admitted that a faulty alarm system led to 7.3Ml being abstracted on 18 June 2005 and 7.7Ml on 3 December 2005. Systems are now in place to prevent breaches, the company said.

    Severn Trent attracted another £4,000 fine with £5,888 in costs two days later. Appearing before Nottingham magistrates, it admitted polluting the Ouse Dyke with sewage, contrary to sections 85(1) and (6) of the 1991 Act, in November 2005.

    Agency officers traced reports of a sewage leak back to a storm balancing pond in the Nottingham suburb of Carlton. The pond was designed to capture and store excess water from combined sewers during peak flow periods, but blockages in the system had allowed it to fill up with raw sewage which emptied into storm drains and entered the watercourse.

    The sewage stretched around 1.3km along the dyke which is home to several coarse fish species.

  • South West Water has been fined £2,500 and £3,000 in costs for a sewage leak that polluted Kirkham stream in Paignton last April.

    A member of the public alerted the Agency to the leak, which stemmed from a broken manhole chamber at the bottom of a garden adjoining the stream.

    Sewage fungus stretched 150 metres downstream of the source of the leak suggesting it had continued for several days. The stream’s BOD was 282mg/l - similar to that for raw sewage - and an ecological appraisal showed it had been "significantly affected" by the sewage.

    The problem was traced back to a blockage in the sewer. The Agency told the court a similar incident had occurred in 2003.

    Appearing before South Devon magistrates on 25 April, the firm pleaded guilty to causing sewage effluent to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85 of the 1991 Act.

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