South West Water fined £300,000 for sewage spill

15th January 2016

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  • Prosecution


Wendy Ellis

South West Water has been fined £300,000 by Plymouth Crown Court for polluting a stream in Devon with poorly treated sewage.

It is the largest fine imposed on the water company, which was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £14,421.

The court was told that the problem, which was spotted first on 11 September 2013, was due to a combination of equipment failure and poor management at the firm’s Ashill sewage treatment works, near Cullompton. One that occasion, officers from the Environment Agency, which brought the prosecution, discovered sewage fungus in Craddock stream, near the treatment works. They also found excessive sludge in the treatment process and blocked filters. Sewage fungus from the outlet channels of the works extended for 400 metres downstream and affected river life.

A biological survey of the stream found that the sewage had been poorly treated for at least a month, and further investigation by the agency revealed that South West Water knew of the poor condition of the watercourse. The quality of the sewage was still poor when agency officers visited the site on 12 December 2013.

Judge Ian Lawrie said sewage fungus was evidence the pollution was a relatively long-term problem and not due to a passing release of effluent. He said the company had failed to keep an effective watch on the maintenance and operation of the site since the problem was discovered in September 2013. “[South West Water] should have made more effort to ensure the site ran properly and that its maintenance programme was sufficient,” he said.

Mischka Hewins, a spokesperson for the agency, said: “We carried out regular checks on the watercourse in 2013 and saw pollution on two occasions. An ecological survey revealed that there was a detrimental impact on the invertebrate fauna of the stream as a result of the sewage treatment discharge and significant changes to the wider ecology of the stream.”

A spokesperson said South West Water regretted the incidents and the court was told that the company planned to invest heavily in upgrading the Ashill works, including installing an additional septic tank, a new humus tank and a dry weather flow gross storm overflow.

The offences contravened regulations 12 and 38 of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010. The order came just a few weeks after South West Water was fined £214,000 by the same court for a similar offence at its Camel’s Head treatment works in Plymouth.


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