EA launches another investigation into Southern Water over sewage pollution

The Environment Agency (EA) has launched a investigation into a Southern Water sewage discharge in June which led to the closure of 11 beaches in Kent.

The water company is also facing scrutiny for a further raw sewage dump incident in Broadstairs earlier this month.

In an email to Rob Yates, a Thanet District Council Labour councillor, who has called for the nationalisation of Southern Water, the EA said it was investigating the release of sewage from Southern Water’s Foreness pumping station on 16 June. 

Southern Water said at the time the discharge, which caused disruption to local businesses, was a result of a lightning strike on the pumping station, as well as heavy rainfall.

The closures led to protests, with approximately 200 protesters taking to the streets in Margate, marching from the district council offices to the Foreness pumping station. 

The water company said it would provide reasonable compensation to local businesses that have “been directly impacted”. 

Southern Water also agreed to cover the costs incurred by the council in responding to the incident, along with an offer to fund community related beach support.

Yates noted that Southern Water is allowed to undertake diluted sewage releases in heavy rainfall but that this was “entirely reliant upon them maintaining their equipment to ensure that the required sewage pumping speeds are being met during such a period”.

He told ENDS it did not therefore surprise him that the EA would open an investigation “if they believe that pumping speeds have not been meeting their required permitted levels during the incident”.

He added that it would be “interesting to understand what caused” another raw sewage dumping incident in Broadstairs on 5 October, leading to more Thanet beaches being closed. 

“If it is the case that the Southern Water have been failing to maintain their pumping stations correctly and that this has contributed to raw sewage being dumped around our coast, then I would expect our MPs to step up and demand that Southern Water is brought back into public hands, so that we have people managing waste for the public good and not for profit,” said Yates.

It emerged last week that a number of Southern Water staff had been sacked following the firm being fined £90m for repeatedly and deliberately dumping raw sewage into seas along the south coast between 2010 and 2015. This was in breach of the water company’s environmental permits. 

A spokesperson for Southern Water was quoted in the Isle of Thanet News as saying: “Since the lightning strike at our Margate works, we’ve been working closely with the Environment Agency and conducting our own root cause analysis of the incident which will help us to make assets more resilient in the face of extreme weather events.

“As is usual, the EA is conducting its own standard investigation and we will continue to share all relevant data with them. Southern Water is one of the most open and transparent companies on environmental information in the sector. Protecting the environment is our key priority.”