Water Industry News

£4 Million Fine For Thames Water Raw Sewage Discharge

Water supplier Thames Water has been fined £4 million for discharging nearly half a million litres of raw sewage over the course of around 30 hours into the Seacourt and Hinksey streams in Oxford in July 2016.


The discharge flowed for at least 3.5km along the two streams, past community allotments and through the garden of a pub. The Environment Agency estimates that the incident caused the deaths of up to 3,000 fish, including chub, roach, perch, gudgeon and bullheads, some of which were up to nine years old.


It was found that the company had failed to carry out maintenance work to prevent issues in a sewer that it was already aware was vulnerable to blockages. No system was in place to identify blockages or pollution from taking place, relying only on observations by members of the public.


In this particular instance, the situation was reported to the Environment Agency by some canoeists who found themselves suddenly padding in sewage among dead fish.


It was later found that Thames Water had carried out a sewer renewal project in 2021, opting for a solution that saved them millions of pounds and which required a six-monthly cleaning regime for the sewer to prevent blockages.


The supplier failed to comply with the permit in this regard, with the court hearing that it had failed to adequately maintain the high-risk section of the sewer for at least 16 years.


Robert Davis, an Environment Agency senior officer who attended the scene, said: “It was quite horrific. Sewage pollution was bank to bank and there was a foul stench of raw sewage.


“When we traced the source we found a waterfall of raw sewage discharging via a pipe into the streams. Amongst the dead fish, Fisheries officers observed hundreds more on the surface, suffering and gasping for oxygen.”


This is not the first time Thames Water has been fined for pollution incidents, however. It was also fined £4 million for the leaking of around 79 million litres of raw untreated sewage from a Surbiton treatment works during Storm Imogen in 2016.


And in March 2021, faulty equipment at a sewage treatment plant saw the company fined £2.3 million for the polluting of a stream with sewage, which killed 1,444 fish and other water life.


To ensure that it meets its commitments to keep waterways clean and healthy, Thames Water has said it has now made changes to its online and telephone channels so that customer reports of incidents can be fast-tracked, driving down the amount of time it takes to investigate them.


Once an incident report has come in, a rapid response team will be sent out within two hours, to ensure that swift and immediate action is taken. The upgrades were rolled out in June and, since then, the amount of time taken to respond has fallen in many cases to under an hour.


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