Company fined over £500,000 after Olympic-sized swimming pool’s worth of sewage discharged into Essex river

Anglian Water must pay £563,600 after a treatment plant failure led to 3.9 million litres of sewage entering the river Wid in Essex, killing aquatic life and leading to high levels of ammonia pollution

An investigation carried out by the Environment Agency (EA) found more than more than an Olympic sized swimming pool’s worth of harmful sewage was discharged into a tributary of the river Wid, and was left unchecked for two-and-half days in autumn 2018. This damaged the river’s ecosystem as well as killing a number of protected species, including the bullhead, a freshwater fish.

The EA found that the spill came as a result of failures from the water company in planning, managing, and monitoring at its Doddinghurst Water Recycling Centre. The centre, which is eight miles south of Chelmsford, is responsible for treating sewage from around 6,600 local residents  and discharges treated sewage into the upper Wid, also known as Doddinghurst Brook.

The company was sentenced at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on 24 November, and was ordered to pay a fine of £536,000, costs of £27,439 and a victim surcharge of £170.

The District Judge Sam Goozee described Anglian Water’s record as ‘lamentable’. This is the sixth fine Anglian Water has received in 2022, according to The ENDS Report Fines Monitor.

The court heard how a fault in the aeration process at the Wyatts Green site led to the sewage discharge on 28 September. The malfunction was not spotted until 1 October 2018, when an operative from Anglian water saw the aerators were not working.

If an early alarm system, using software costing just £205, had been installed earlier that year, after a previous fault occurred on the same part of the process, then this spill could have been avoided, the court heard.

As a result, around four kilometres of the river Wid experienced high levels of ammonia for six days after the failure.

EA chief executive Sir James Bevan said: “We welcome this sentence. Serious pollution is a serious crime.

“The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature, and will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties for those which do not.”

Environment officer at the Environment Agency, Gavin Senior, added: “The fine handed to Anglian Water shows polluters are made to pay for damaging the environment.

The invertebrate and fish population in this area, including a protected species, suffered significantly because of this sewage pollution and it took time for the local ecosystem to recover.”

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “We take our duty of care to the environment incredibly seriously and deeply regret any negative impact when things go wrong. We work tirelessly to protect and enhance the environment, and find it deeply distressing when incidents like this occur. 

“Which is why, even though this incident caused no long term environmental harm, and the judge acknowledged our quick response to mitigate any further impact, we also donated £60,000 to the Essex and Suffolk Rivers Trust to help fund their projects and benefit the local environment.

“We know there’s no room for complacency, and we’re absolutely determined to improve further and progress towards achieving our zero pollutions goal.”