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Bank holiday sewage discharge costs South West Water £86K

Exeter Crown Court has ordered South West Water (SWW) to pay £86,000 in fines and costs for discharging sewage into Dawlish Water over a bank holiday weekend.

On August 28, 2015, an automatic alarm was triggered in Brook Street after a blockage in a pipe caused sewage to leak into nearby Dawlish Water, a stream that runs through the centre of the town. The alarm sounded at 8.15am, but the water company did not dispatch an emergency crew to deal with the problem until 11.40am.

Instead of going to Brook Street, it went to Brook House in another part of Dawlish and reported nothing was wrong. It was not until a second team arrived, some six hours after the alarm sounded, that the discharge was discovered and steps were finally taken to stop the pollution.

The problem was caused by a brick that had somehow entered and blocked the sewer causing it to overflow.

Dawlish beach was busy with holidaymakers at the time of the incident. Bathers were advised by an official from Teignbridge District Council to stay out of the sea and wash their hands. The Environment Agency (EA), which brought the case against SWW) declared an ‘abnormal situation’ and the bathing water was closed for more than 24 hours.

Levels of E.coli bacteria in Dawlish Water increased significantly as a result of the discharge, from 990 per 100ml upstream of the sewer pipe to 4,800,000 at the point of discharge. Further downstream in the walled section by the viaduct the level had reduced to 70,000, but children had been seen playing in the water in this area. Dilution in the sea meant there were safe levels of E.coli in the town’s bathing water.

SWW said it had tried to get a team to Dawlish as soon as possible, but the response time was increased because a crew was unavailable having attended sewer flooding of a property elsewhere overnight. A second crew was unable to attend due to technical problems with their vehicle.

Nigel Thomas-Childs, for the EA, said: “Water companies must respond promptly to emergencies to minimise any pollution or harm to the environment. This discharge occurred over an August bank holiday when Dawlish was particularly busy. South West Water lost valuable time and took too long to find the blockage and deal with the overflow to the brook.”

South West Water was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £6,202 costs after pleading guilty to discharging polluting material into Dawlish Brook, an offence under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

The fine comes just days after South West Water was ordered to pay £89,000 in fines and costs after a sewer overflow, which should only discharge during storms, polluted a stream with sewage for up to two days.

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