More sewage offences for Southern, South West and Welsh

Three water companies were in the dock recently to answer charges of sewage pollution. Southern Water was prosecuted for the eighth time this year and ordered to pay over £6,000 after polluting recreational waters on a sunny summer day. South West and Welsh Water also admitted causing pollution from sewage overflows.

Southern Water appeared in court to admit causing sewage to enter the Solent estuary in August last year. It pleaded guilty to a charge under section 85(3) of the Water Resources Act 1991 before Lyndhurst magistrates on 7 November.

The court heard that a member of the public reported to the Environment Agency that sewage was entering the sea close to Warsash near Southampton. An Agency officer traced the flow to a discharge from Southern Water's Chilling Lane sewage pumping station.

The company investigated the incident and later told the Agency that the discharge was an overflow caused by a blown fuse following a power surge. Pumps at the station had stopped and the build-up of sewage overflowed.

Although there was a telemetry link at the pumping station to warn of rising sewage levels, this had failed to operate.

Southern Water was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,230 in costs.

This was Southern Water's ninth offence this year, making it highly likely that it will hit the top slot in the Agency's water pollution league next year. The company's previous eight offences were listed in October (ENDS Report 345, pp 53-54 ). Its fines for the year now total almost £70,000.

South West Water appeared in court twice in late October to plead guilty to pollution charges.

On 20 October, it admitted causing polluting matter to enter Stover lake, contrary to section 85(1) of the 1991 Act. South Devon magistrates heard that sewage had overflowed across a path in Stover country park and entered the lake.

The incident followed a sewer blockage, and the court heard that there had been two previous overflows at the site in the past five years. The company was fined £4,000 with £915 in costs.

Nine days later, South West Water was in court again to answer a charge under section 85(3) of the 1991 Act. East Devon magistrates heard that there had been a discharge of sewage into the river Creedy at Newton St Cyres from its Station Road pumping station in December 2002.

An investigation showed that a inflatable bung had been used temporarily to seal a hole in the pumping station's wall. But the bung had failed and river water had flowed in, diluting the sewage and overwhelming the pump. An emergency pump cut in and discharged the sewage into the river.

South West Water has since replaced the pumping station, but the Environment Agency maintained that it should manage its assets more effectively. It was the third time that the pumping station had discharged illegally in the last three years.

South West Water was fined £4,500 and ordered to pay costs of £500. It was the company's fifth court appearance this year.

Welsh Water pleaded guilty to causing sewage to enter a tributary of the Nant Goch on 28 October, contrary to section 85(3) of the 1991 Act. The company appeared before Llanelli magistrates to admit the offence, which occurred last March.

A member of the public reported seeing the watercourse running grey and smelling of sewage. The Agency traced the discharge to a combined sewer overflow. Although such overflows are consented to discharge under storm conditions, the weather at the time of the incident was dry and there was only a modest dilution of the discharge.

Welsh Water was fined £750 and ordered to pay costs of £1,208. It was the company's fourth court appearance and fifth offence this year, for which it has paid £18,250 in fines and £5,276 in costs.

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