The incident came to light during a routine inspection of Welsh Water's Saundersfoot sewage treatment works, near Tenby, in June 1993. A National Rivers Authority (NRA) officer noticed that the plant was discharging storm sewage to the Saundersfoot stream following heavy rain.
The stream is a particularly sensitive watercourse because it flows into the sea across Saundersfoot beach, which is designated under the 1976 EC Directive on bathing water quality.
The works' discharge consent specifies that it should not allow an overflow of storm sewage except after a once-in-50-years rainfall event. The storm in this case had not been an event of this severity, and the company compounded the offence by failing to inform the NRA of the discharge, as required by its consent.
NRA samples of seawater from the beach showed that the discharge would have caused a failure of the Directive if formal samples had been taken on that day or on either of the two days following. Preseli and Pembrokeshire District Council erected signs to warn bathers of the poor water quality.
The NRA pressed two charges of causing sewage effluent to be discharged to controlled waters contrary to a discharge consent, under sections 85(3) and 85(6) of the Water Resources Act 1991. Welsh Water pleaded guilty before Tenby magistrates on 15 December. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,264.
The case bears some similarity to an incident at Sandsend near Scarborough, when sewage contaminated a stream flowing across a beach during a Bank Holiday weekend (ENDS Report 221, p 44 ). Yorkshire Water was fined £75,000 for two offences, despite claiming that contractors' errors were to blame. The fine was reduced to £15,000 on appeal last July.
ENDS' recent analysis of the prosecutions taken by the NRA since its formation in 1989 showed that Welsh Water had more prosecutions to its name than any company except British Coal (ENDS Repot 230, pp 44-45). However, in 1993 it was only prosecuted twice and the Saundersfoot incident appears to be its only prosecution this year. From a bad start following privatisation, Welsh Water now appears to be improving its performance - quite the reverse of the trend in North West Water's pollution record (see p 37 ).