Exeter Crown Court heard how a combination of plant break down, telemetry failures and poor management on the part of South West Water resulted in Woodbury’s Polly Brook becoming contaminated with poor quality sewage, which subsequently led to the death of a number of fish.
South West Water admitted to two charges, namely by allowing sewage effluent that had not been fully treated to pollute the stream and also failing to notify the Environment Agency of the problems with the treatment process at the Woodbury based sewage treatment works.
The Environment Agency was first alerted to the pollution by two members of the public on 28 and 29 August 2013.
After investigating the watercourse in question, the Environment Agency subsequently found that the conditions of the permit had been breached. It was found that two stages of the sewage treatment process were causing issues. The first stage involved the aeration treatment which, when working effectively, ensures that sewage does not turn septic.
However, in August 2013, this key part of the treatment was found to have failed. A further stage sees sewage pass through reed beds for further treatment and filtration purposes.
The Court heard how the works’ filtration system had been temporarily out of action during the period in which the pollution occurred.
These issues resulted in a breach of the permit conditions, which require South West Water to ensure that the treatment works operate correctly and to notify the Environment Agency of any problems that might affect sewage quality. The permit conditions also require that treated sewage must be of a standard that does not cause adverse pollution or environmental harm.
Peter Ball from the Environment Agency said:
We received two reports of pollution from members of the public who had noticed sewage fungus and dead fish in Polly Brook. However, South West Water did not notify us of issues as required by the terms of their permit.
An ecological survey was undertaken, which concluded that there was a detrimental impact on the invertebrate fauna of the stream as a result of the Woodbury sewage treatment discharge and significant changes to the wider ecology of the stream.
South West Water was fined £40,000 for exceeding the numerical discharge limits set out in the permit and £7,500 for failing to report this to the Environment Agency. South West Water was also ordered to pay £3,200 in costs.