Last March, an Environment Agency officer standing on the Cornish coastal path near Camborne noticed that a large area of the sea was coloured brown. The position of the pollution corresponded to the outfall of South West Water's new sewage works at Kieve Mill.
The company appeared before west Cornwall magistrates sitting in Camborne on 5 February to plead guilty to polluting controlled waters with sewage effluent, contrary to section 85(6) of the Water Resources Act 1991.
The court heard that the substandard effluent discharge resulted from a problem with the sludge settlement tanks at the works. Before commissioning the works in 2002, the company discharged untreated sewage directly to sea.
Following the incident, South West Water applied for a relaxation of its discharge consent. However, the request was refused by the Agency because of the visual impact of the discharge from the coastal path.
The company was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,350.
South West Water also appeared before Honiton magistrates on 21 January to plead guilty to a charge of causing sewage to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85(1) of the 1991 Act.
The charge related to a discharge from a pumping station overflow into the Shutterton brook near Dawlish on 25 April last year.
Local residents reported the discharge to the Agency. Officers found that sewage levels at the pumping station were very high and the pumps were not running, even though they appeared to have been switched on.
Until contacted by the Agency, the company was unaware of the problem. It sent contractors to restart the pumps manually.
South West Water was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay the Agency £825 in prosecution costs.
The two prosecutions come on top of 10 offences, nine court appearances and fines totalling £41,000 in 2003. The company is likely to top the Environment Agency's water pollution league for the year, along with Southern Water (ENDS Report 347, p 63 ).