South West Water appeared before East Cornwall magistrates on 17 March to plead guilty to breaching the conditions of its consent to discharge from Nanstallon sewage treatment works near Bodmin. The offence was in contravention of section 85(6) of the Water Resources Act 1991.
The court heard that the breach came to light on 16 May last year when an Environment Agency officer noticed the plant's sewage effluent was heavily discoloured during a routine inspection.
A sample of the effluent showed that the level of suspended solids was 269 milligrams per litre - over 3.5 times the consent limit of 75mg/l.
An automatic alarm system which should have warned the company's control room of the poor effluent quality was not working. The prosecution told the court that the company had not kept records showing whether the alarm system had been regularly tested.
The effluent was discharging into the Camel, a sensitive salmon and sea trout river protected under the EU habitats Directive and a nationally important site for otter and bullhead.
South West Water was fined £1,500 and made to pay costs of £1,400.
The company's second court appearance was before Plymouth magistrates on 5 April. South West Water pleaded guilty to breaching its consent to discharge from its Lee Mill sewage works near Ivybridge, Devon, contrary to section 85(6) of the 1991 Act.
The Agency told the court that the works had failed its discharge consent conditions for biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and suspended solids on three occasions between 23 May 2002 and 13 May 2003. The works had been sampled on 12 occasions between those dates and the consent allows for only two failures.
The third failure on 13 May exceeded the BOD standard by 50%, threatening fish in the receiving water, the river Yealm. The Agency said that the works had a history of non-compliance.
South West Water was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £900 in prosecution costs.
The two offences bring the company's tally to five this year, and its total fines to £25,500. Last year, the company was prosecuted for ten offences and is likely to head the Agency's 2003 water pollution league this summer, along with Southern Water (ENDS Report 347, pp 63-64 ).