A Northumbria water company has been fined £240,000 after raw sewage leaked into a fresh water stream.
Northumbrian Water Ltd had previously pleaded guilty to two offences of polluting Coundon Burn in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on March 13 and 14, 2017.
A blocked combined sewer caused the pollution, which led to effluent entering Coundon Burn.
Two days ago, March 17, 2017, the manhole collapsed partially and blocks and other debris blocked the sewer. Raw sewage poured out and into the water supply.
Northumbrian Water was fined £240,000 after pleading guilty to two offences of polluting Coundon Burn (above: sewage entering stream) in County Durham, on March 13 and 14, 2017
Northumbrian Water received the report from a member. They believed the blockage had been cleared.
However, the officers discovered a second manhole downstream that was also leaking sewage into Coundon Burn. This river flows into the River Gaunless, a tributary to the River Wear.
The court heard that they discovered a buildup of litter and sewage rags after cutting through the pipe.
Sewage fungus, which can be fatal to aquatic life, was found growing on the bed of the stream, but samples showed the water was no longer polluted 24 hours after repairs were made, the court heard.
Northumbrian Water Ltd pleaded guilty to two charges of causing an activity. Although Northumbrian Water Ltd had denied the charges in April, they were changed to October.
On Wednesday, Judge Robert Adams fined the company £240,000 and £34,238 in costs, to be paid within 28 days.
A blocked combined sewer caused the pollution, which led to effluent entering Coundon Burn. (pictured: File photo of stream).
Judge said that the amount ‘certainly will not put Northumbria Water into business’ and have no impact on customer service.
Judge Adams stated that Adams’ company was quick to respond after the spillage and that they cleared up the problem quickly.
He said that he was satisfied with the failure of the entire organisation to implement and enforce proper systems in order to prevent the offense.
Northumbrian Water, described as “one the leaders of their sector” by their approach and working with Environment Agency (who brought the prosecution), was called Northumbrian Water.
Court was informed that the company produces a “very small number” of spills each year. They have also won numerous awards.
The North East England’s largest sewerage provider, the water company, serves 1.3million homes.
Following the Coundon Burn spillage, the judge ordered that the firm set up an initiative to clear manholes from the most vulnerable locations.
Northumbrian Water is currently facing 45 convictions in relation to water quality, and another related to drinking water. Pictured: Northumbrian Water Treatment Plant in Middlesbrough
It has 45 previous convictions relating to water quality and one relating to drinking water, as well as 64 cautions.
Last year, the company was fined £540,000 with £142,000 costs after admitting a pollution case at Heads Hope Burn, near Castle Eden, in May 2017.
Rachael Caldwell (Environment Manager, Environment Agency North East) stated that: “We take responsibility to protect our environment very seriously.
“Water companies recognize that their actions can cause severe environmental effects and are legally obligated to reduce pollution.
“The regulations are very clear. Our officers worked tirelessly to bring this case to court and we’re committed to holding water companies to account.
‘The Environment Agency has secured fines of over £137million since 2015 with record fines handed down last year, making it clear that polluters will pay for damage to the environment.’
Researchers found that untreated sewage was dumped in waterways across England and Wales by water firms more than 3000 times over four years.
MailOnline by Jack Wright
Since 2017, raw sewage was illegally dumped in more than 3000 rivers throughout the country.
Seven water companies in England and Wales have regularly broken the law by discharging untreated sewage into Britain’s waterways over the past four years, a report by the BBC alleges.
Campaigners stated that they had shared data with the broadcaster which showed that water companies were flouting the Environment Agency’s ‘poor regulation.
These seven companies were accused are South West Water (Southwest Water), Thames Water, Thames Water and United Utilities.
Windrush Against Sewage Pollution’s Professor Peter Hammond stated that companies had discharged untreated sewage to 59 treatment plants that handle 4.5 million people’s wastewater.
Since 2017, raw sewage was illegally dumped in more than 3000 rivers all over the country (stock photo)
Because the Environment Agency doesn’t scrutinize the data sufficiently, he claimed that the Agency fails to find thousands of illegal spillages.
Water UK represents water companies and said that they agree on the need to take urgent action to reduce the environmental damage caused by overflows.
Last week, MPs were warned by the Environment Agency that England’s rivers have been contaminated with a “chemical cocktail” of raw sewage and oils.
Water and agricultural companies were deemed the most significant contributors by the Environment Audi Committee. They also stated that pollution is a danger to health and the environment.
Professor Hammond stated to the BBC that in some instances, multiple sewage workers spill into the same river, causing long-term damage, spinning for as long as six months and sometimes as long as four, with almost no break.
According to the broadcaster, Prof Hammond was looking at data from “event duration monitors”, which are used every 15 minutes to determine if a treatment is releasing untreated wastewater into a river.
The data was then compared with data from rainfall and the records of companies on how much they treat sewage.
He claimed that Thames Water, which runs the Dorking sewage treatment plants at Dorking, was the source of the greatest number of spillages.
The BBC reports that untreated sewage has been discharged into River Mole for 223 consecutive days in the past four years.
Professor Hammond suggests that no one of these would have been allowed by the rules because the weather was too wet or the sewage hadn’t been properly treated.
Untreated sewage can be released into rivers by water companies in certain circumstances like severe rainfall.
They may be breaking the law if they discharge when the conditions are dry – so-called ‘dry spills’.
They could also be acting illegally if they are not treating enough of the sewage before they discharge it – known as an ‘early spill’.
Yorkshire Water cast doubts on the work of Prof Hammond, saying that he had ‘fundamentally misinterpreted data’.
MailOnline was told by a spokesperson that the report had fundamentally misunderstood the data and didn’t understand the workings of Environmental Permits. This data clearly shows that these projects are complying with their permits.
“The report shows that our treatment works operate as expected, and permitted spillages occur during or after periods of rain when the flows to them are higher than FFT (flows to full treatment).”
Welsh Water insisted that data was incomplete and challenged Prof Hammond’s methodology.
According to a spokesperson, “We play an important role in improving river water quality overall and our CSOs are already top priorities for us.”
According to a BBC report, seven water companies from England and Wales discharged untreated wastewater into Britain’s waters since 2017. (file image: River Trent at Yoxall).
Campaigners said data showed that the water industry was flouting ‘poor regulation’ by the Environment Agency (file image of the River Thames at Maidenhead)
Katy Taylor (Chief Customer Officer at Southern Water) stated that transparency about the performance of Southern Water is very important. All sewage releases, regardless of whether they are permitted, must be reported to the Environment Agency. We also publish any such information on our site.
“While we’re proud that 78 out of 83 bathing water in our area have been rated excellent or good, we know we can do more to protect our seas and rivers.
‘To improve our performance we are investing £2billion over the next five years, with a commitment to cut 80% of our pollution incidents by 2025 and 80% of storm overflows by 2030.
We are taking an integrated approach to the various causes of pollution through partnerships with local stakeholders across South East. These collaborative approaches will allow us to move faster and put holistic, nature-based solutions at the core of our efforts to reduce pollution.
“We appreciate the support Ofwat’s and Environment Agency’s in the creation of a framework that encourages more collaborative and environmentally-driven approaches to eliminating all sewage emissions for good.”
Wessex Water spokesperson said that they are currently reviewing Professor Hammond’s modeling to confirm the overflow usage data.
“Our monitoring data suggests that overflows in this area do not affect the river ecology downstream, and therefore no concern has been raised by Environment Agency.
MailOnline received the following statement from Thames Water: “We have received the report. We will examine it closely in the days ahead.”
“We consider all untreated sewage discharges unacceptable. We will cooperate with Ofwat, the government and Environment Agency to speed up work to prevent them from happening.
“That’s why we have committed to providing sewage notification notifications in near real-time from all 468 permit discharge points by 2022. We believe that we are the only water company who has made this commitment for inland waters.
“We are able to make unprecedented investments towards protecting rivers and streams.
‘Between 2020 and 2025 we are spending £1.25billion on maintaining and improving our operational sites, including contributing to the health of 745km of rivers across London and the Thames Valley, for example increasing our capacity by 50 per cent at our Witney site.
“Our goal will be to do what is right for rivers and the people who live and love them. We have a long way to go – and we certainly can’t do it on our own – but the ambition is clear.’
An Environment Agency spokesman said: ‘Where there is evidence of non-compliance we will not hesitate to pursue the water companies concerned, and take appropriate action – as is evidenced by the conclusion of seven prosecutions against water and sewerage companies in 2021.
“Sewage Pollution can cause severe damage to our environment, local biodiversity, and human health. This must be addressed by water companies, regulators and farmers, as well as other stakeholders such as farmers, fishermen, scientists, engineers, etc.
“To-date, 1300 storm overflows at storm water treatment plants and storm tanks have been found to be spilling often. We reviewed data from more than 12,000 locations and prioritized these cases for additional scrutiny.
“Our separate major investigation into potential unauthorised spillages at thousands sewage treatment works in the United States is currently ongoing.”
MailOnline reached out to all seven companies asking for comments.