Southern Water fined £200,000 after pumping untreated sewage into sea near Margate's Blue Flag beaches
Southern Water has been fined £200,000 after discharging raw sewage into the sea near Thanet's beaches.
The company blamed the 145 hours of spillages on a design fault at its state-of-the art “fully-automated flagship” wastewater pumping station in Foreness Point, Margate.
But the Environment Agency revealed that for 17 minutes on Easter Sunday 2011, raw sewage was released onto the beach.
Foreness Point in Margate
SWS barrister Clifford Darton told Canterbury Crown Court that there was no evidence that the overflow had caused any damage to the environment.
The company has admitted breaching environmental regulations between January and July two years ago.
The court heard that the sewage from the area is collected at the Margate station, but had to be pumped 11 kilometres to another site where it was treated.
It was then returned to Foreness Point where the treated water was pumped through a ‘long sea’ pipe 1.9 kms into the sea.
But prosecutor David Warbank told the court: “Under normal operation, what should happen is that ultra-violet treated effluent is pumped out. That should happen in all but the most severe storm conditions.
“But there were numerous discharges of untreated effluent through three of the pipes, which the overwhelming majority was caused, say the company, because of a major design fault in the housing of the four pumps.
“There were many, many unauthorised discharges during this period.
"In total 101 hours of untreated effluent going out in the long sea pipe, 44 hours through the short-sea pipe and a short period when discharges went straight on to the beaches through the emergency pipe.
“That was 17 minutes onto the beach on Easter Sunday 2011 when there is likely to have been a significant number of people there.”
The prosecutor claimed there had been “ a repeated failure” by SWS to pump the sewage to the treatment plant and instead it was discharged untreated into the sea.
He said the errors were compounded by the fact the company had failed to notify the agency within 24 hours.
“Thanet has more “Blue Flag” bathing beaches than any other local authority in the UK and any change in perception or loss of confidence in that could have a major effect on the reputation of the town.
“These were systematic failures with the potential serious consequences for the local population and environment of large quantities of untreated effluent going into the sea off Margate" - prosecutor David Warbank
“These were systematic failures with the potential serious consequences for the local population and environment of large quantities of untreated effluent going into the sea off Margate, “ added Mr Warbank.
Mr Darton told the court that SWS had now spent £1.7m on correcting the problem, with another £400,000 earmarked for more work on the site. The company is also hoping to build a £1.21 pumping station nearby.
He said the 17 minutes brought “no observable discharge” of effluent and therefore didn’t require any clear-up.
The barrister said the fault took so long to correct because it was “like a supertanker which takes many miles to turn” and was an engineering problem which “couldn’t be corrected easily”.
Speaking today, Judge Adele Williams criticised the company for not correcting the fault sooner.
She said that although there was only 17 minutes that sewage was discharged onto the beach “in my judgement, the real mischief is that any discharge was made at all!”
She added: “The company should have shown much greater urgency to remedy the defect.”
SWS was given a month to pay the fine and the company has agreed to pay the prosecution costs.
Speaking after the case, Southern Water wastewater manager Clive Massey said: “We apologise for the problems at Margate pumping station.
"We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and have been working closely with the Environment Agency and our regulators to make appropriate long-term improvements to the pumping station.”
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