SEVERN Trent Water Ltd has been fined £1.5million and was ordered to pay £58,365 prosecution costs for illegal sewage discharges into brooks across Worcestershire.
Two of the instances took place in Bromsgrove in 2018.
In the first – between March 3 and 10 at Bromsgrove Sewage Treatment Works, Aston Road, an environmental permit was breached with regard to the upper tier limits set for Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD). The unacceptable sewage levels came about after discharges into the Sugar Brook, contravening Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
Then between March 5 and 10, there was a similar discharge from the Stoke Prior Sewage Treatment Works into Hen Brook.
The other two breaches happened in Blackminster and Priest Bridge and it was for these they were fined for.
The court heard the company failed to respond to alarms warning of a blockage, failed to adequately manage sewage sludge, and failed to adequately manage a situation when a piece of equipment failed. They resulted into sewage being discharged into a number of Worcestershire watercourses.
Prosecuting for the Environment Agency, Counsel Mr James Puzey told the court in February 2018, Severn Trent Water failed to respond promptly to alarms at its sewage treatment works at Blackminster, near Evesham. A blockage to the works resulted in approximately 360,000 litres of sewage being illegally discharged to the nearby Broadway Brook. It was hours before Severn Trent Water operatives attended to take remedial action.
The court also heard how over the winter of 2017/2018, Severn Trent Water failed to adequately manage treatment of sewage sludge at other treatment works in the county, causing it to build up within the system.
District Judge Strongman said in respect of the Blackminster incident: “Alarms were not actioned as they should have been.
“This resulted in the works ‘discharging for four hours’.”
On the Bromsgrove and Stoke Prior incidents he added: “Bad weather played a part but more should have been done to cope with the problems by way of spare capacity.”
And on the Priest Bridge incident District Judge Strongman said there was a serious problem developing and Severn Trent Water ‘was in no great hurry to carry out maintenance’.
Severn Trent Water’s previous convictions were an aggravating feature of this prosecution.
Since these incidents the company has advised the Environment Agency it has changed its management structure and provided better technical support.
The company has also invested at the Bromsgrove works to improve treatment efficiency.
Severn Trent Water Ltd have also stated that it plans to rebuild its works at Blackminster, and to close the works at Stoke Prior towards the end of the decade.
David Throup, Environment Manager for the West Midlands Area of the Environment Agency, said: “Incidents like this are preventable and are completely unacceptable, particularly at a time when the need to protect the water environment for wildlife and people has never been greater and when public consciousness on environmental matters is so high.
“Water companies are aware that their activities have the potential for serious environmental impacts, and they know that we will take action when they cause pollution.
“The Environment Agency does and will continue to hold water companies to account when their performance falls below acceptable standards.”
He urged anyone who saw suspected water pollution to report it immediately to the EA incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.
This conviction follows the announcement that the Environment Agency and Ofwat have both launched new investigations into sewage treatment works after new checks led to water companies admitting they could be releasing unpermitted sewage discharges.
The Severn Trent case was brought by the EA and the company was sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty to the offences at an earlier court hearing in August.