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Thames Water fined £607,000 for polluting and killing fish

Thames Water has been ordered to pay more than £700,000 in fines and costs for polluting the Maidenhead Ditch in Berkshire, which led to fish being killed and many others in distress.

The case was brought by the Environment Agency after Thames Water caused pollution from its site at Maidenhead Sewage Treatment Works to enter the Maidenhead Ditch, which joins the River Cut – a tributary of the Thames that is home to Bray Marina, South East Water’s public water supply waterworks as well as a well-used amenity for paddle borders and other water users.

On 10 July 2019 at Aylesbury Crown Court, Thames Water was ordered to pay fines of £607,000, costs of £100,000 and a victim surcharge of £120.

The court heard how, in June 2014, Thames Water caused pollution of the watercourse with raw sewage. Maidenhead STW has a permit to discharge storm sewage in storm conditions into the watercourse. The permit aims to deal with the high flows that can result during periods of extreme rainfall but, at that time, there were no extreme weather conditions.

Maidenhead STW also has another permit to discharge treated final effluent into the watercourse as it includes human waste, a variety of pollutants, organic materials and chemicals. However, the Environment Agency told the court how Thames Water did not meet the conditions of these permits around the time of the incident. The court heard how sewage and partially treated sewage respectively ended up in the watercourse as a result of poorly performing equipment.

Environment Agency officers attended the site as soon as a member of the public alerted the incident hotline after witnessing a grey and odorous cloud of polluted water entering the Maidenhead Ditch and River Cut from the Sewage Treatment Works.

Officers carried out monitoring for water quality and took water samples of the watercourse at various locations. The results revealed very low dissolved oxygen levels – indicating that oxygen was stripped from the water as a consequence of June 2014 pollution.

Investigations carried out by Environment Agency officers revealed further failures by Thames Water management. This involved repeated discharges of untreated or poorly treated raw sewage into the river and failing to react adequately to alarms used to alert them to the serious problems. Logbook entries suggest ongoing discharges and other problems at a site that was struggling to cope.

Environment Agency officer Ben Govan said: “Our officers believe up to around 30 million litres of sewage polluted the ditch. Hundreds of fish died and the environment suffered as a result of Thames Water’s failures. Pollution could and should have been avoided had the many warnings and alerts leading up to the incident been acknowledged and dealt with properly.

“We take these types of incidents very seriously and will do everything within our powers to safeguard the environment and people affected, and that includes holding those who put the environment at risk to account for their actions.”

In a statement, Thames Water said: “We take our role in protecting the environment extremely seriously and our current pollution levels are 46 per cent lower than five years ago, when this regrettable incident happened.

“We’re really sorry for what happened at our works, which has a very good track record, following one of the wettest winters on record. This led to higher than expected amounts of wet wipes and other unflushable items getting into the system and causing a blockage.

“We’ve since made major changes right across the business, including targeted sewer cleaning, increased investment and upgraded monitoring, to help us achieve our ambition of zero pollutions.”

To read our WWT Explains report on sewer modelling and CSOs, click here

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: Thames Water , environment agency , fines , pollution

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