A round-up of the latest environmental legal cases including Yorkshire Water and Southern Water.

Polluting a Harrogate watercourse with untreated and unscreened sewage has cost Yorkshire Water £380,000. Bradford Crown Court fined the utility operator £350,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £30,000 for allowing sewage to flow into Rud Beck at Sherwood Drive, Harrogate, in April 2013.

The Environment Agency said the pollution had had a significant impact on the watercourse and the River Crimple, into which the beck runs. Richard Bradley, prosecuting for the agency, told the court that toilet rolls and rags could be seen, and the water downstream was a cloudy, yellow-grey colour and smelt strongly of sewage.

Samples showed high levels of ammonia and low levels of dissolved oxygen. Yorkshire Water reported a sewer blockage to the agency on 15 April. Investigations revealed that the discharge began three days earlier but the company had been slow to respond because a telemetry alarm system, used to alert it to discharges, had been malfunctioning since 15 March and not been reset after a previous alarm on 16 March.

‘Untreated sewage entered the beck for 87 hours, causing significant pollution affecting over 5km of Rud Beck and the Crimple,’ said a spokesperson for the agency. ‘The impact would have been significantly less if the telemetry had been working properly or if Yorkshire Water had responded sooner.’

In mitigation, the firm, which pleaded guilty to the offence, said the telemetry system had been upgraded in May 2013 and that since the incident it had introduced a clear escalation procedure for responding to apparent anomalies.

In April, Leeds Crown Court fined Yorkshire Water a record £1.1m for illegally discharging sewage that polluted the River Ouse near York.

Cost of permit breach more than £57k

Failure to meet permit conditions for a water treatment works in Kent has cost Southern Water more than £57,000.

The company has an environmental permit to discharge treated effluent from the Tunbridge Wells North works to the Somerhill Stream. However, an investigation by the Environment Agency found bio-chemical oxygen demand (BOD) in the effluent had surpassed the maximum allowance on five occasions between July 2013 and July 2014.

Southern Water pleaded guilty to charges under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010. It was fined £24,000 and agreed to pay costs of £33,218. In mitigation, the firm said it had spent £360,000 upgrading the site and a further £6m investment was planned.

David Willis, environment manager at the agency, said the regulator welcomed the commitment to improve the treatment works, but added: ‘We take these incidents very seriously and do everything within our powers to safeguard the environment and people that may be affected. We expect companies to take all necessary actions to comply with permits.’

Civil sanctions for packaging offences

The Environment Agency imposed civil sanctions in 18 cases between 1 January and 31 July. Most related to a breach of the producer responsibility obligations for packaging. The sanctions include:

  • Bahlsen Management – £20,000 to the Woodland Trust and £19,800 to the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust;
  • Cobell – £33,723 to the Woodland Trust;
  • Gonzalez Byass – £120,000 to the Woodland Trust;
  • Hameln Pharmaceuticals – £35,000 to the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum;
  • Lamberts Healthcare – £10,000 split between the Sussex Wildlife Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust;
  • Lyme Bay Cider – £11,567 to the British Beekeepers Association;
  • Paperchase – £19,018 to the Woodland Trust;
  • Probiotics International – £12,331 to Carrymoor Environmental Trust;
  • Syncreon Technology UK – £6,095 to the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire; and
  • Trelleborg Holdings UK – £10,619 to the Freshwater Habitats Trust.