Southern Water pays out £28,000 for sewage errors

Southern Water has been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling over £28,000 in recent weeks after being twice prosecuted by the Environment Agency over sewage pollution incidents.

At the first case on 29 March, Sevenoaks magistrates heard that a Southern Water sewage works was accepting tanker loads of cesspool waste at the front gate while pouring untreated sewage into a local stream.

The court heard that in January last year the Agency received complaints that the Crane Brook near Tunbridge Wells was green and smelly. The pollution was traced to Cranbrook sewage works which was not operating because of a blockage. Flows had been diverted to the storm tanks which were full and overflowing into the stream.

Although the works has a consent to discharge in wet weather, there had been no rain for several days and the stream flow was modest. The levels of sewage measured by the Agency in the stream were more than high enough to kill fish.

The Agency estimated that sewage overflowed into the river for a couple of hours. However, the incident was exacerbated by the fact that the company was still allowing tankers to deliver sewage from cesspools. The waste was flowing straight into the storm tanks and contributing to the overflow.

Southern Water explained that all incoming sewage had been diverted to the storm tanks while the blockage was cleared. However, a jetting machine being used for the job had frozen up and the overflow occurred when staff forgot to divert flow back to the works.

The company blamed human error for the incident but maintained it could not recur because it had since invested £2.2 million in improving the works.

Southern pleaded guilty to a charge of causing polluting matter to enter the brook, contrary to section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,189.

Southern Water appeared in court again on 2 April to plead guilty to polluting a tributary of the river Adur in May last year. Haywards Heath magistrates heard that the watercourse was polluted when sewage poured out of a pumping station, along a road and into the stream.

The Agency heard about the problem near Horsham, Sussex, after a call from a member of the public. An officer found sewage effluent discharging out of the works' front gate.

A company employee arrived and rectified the problem by restarting the station's pumps. However, the impact on the stream was severe with dead perch and trout reported after the incident.

Samples taken by the Agency showed the effluent contained ammonia levels seven times those which would kill fish.

The company explained that the pumps at the station had failed and a telemetry system designed to warn the control centre did not operate. An investigation showed that cables for the telemetry system had been chewed by vermin.

Southern Water said in mitigation that it had now upgraded the alarm system and refurbished the pumps. It was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,201 after pleading guilty to causing sewage effluent to enter the stream, contrary to sections 85(1) and (3) of the 1991 Act.

After the incident the Agency said that the company had failed in its duty to protect the environment. The telemetry cables should have been protected and there should also have been a pest control regime to eliminate rats.

The cases were Southern Water's second and third this year. Last year, the company appeared in court nine times and was prosecuted for ten offences, paying fines totalling £73,200 and costs of over £16,000.

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