Water Industry News

Thames Water Fined £4 Million For Sewage Catastrophe

Back in February 2016, the UK was badly battered by Storm Imogen, causing significant disruption around the country, with winds of almost 100mph and waves as high as 19.1 metres.


As a result of the wild weather, Thames Water’s sewage treatment works at Surbiton found itself unable to cope with the amount of sewage produced – and approximately 79 million litres of raw, untreated sewage escaped across an area of around 6,500 square metres.


Dozens of high-priority alarms were sounded that would have alerted staff to the incident, but these were all either missed or ignored, which resulted in serious damage being done to a park, woodland and the Hogsmill River in New Malden.


Instead of the sewage being treated, the plant’s pumps failed, which saw raw effluent back up along the sewer system before bursting out of a manhole and covering an area the same size as three football pitches.


Thames Water was later fined £4 million on May 26th for the incident, with Judge Francis Sheridan telling Aylesbury Crown Court that the water supplier’s new commitment to improving compliance must become the norm – and the company will be held to it where future incidents are concerned.


Gary Waddup, land and water officer for the Environment Agency, said: “Like similar incidents in the past few years for which they have been prosecuted, better management overall and on the night by Thames Water could have prevented this catastrophic incident.


“It wasn’t the first time sewage had escaped from manholes due to problems at the treatment works in Surbiton. Pollution as a result from problems at the site goes back to 2001.”


He went on to say that enforcement action carried out by the Agency over several years has resulted in £30 billion of investment by the industry to improve water quality. But this particular incident shows that both Thames Water and the sector as a whole have much more to do in order to protect the environment.


A similar incident also saw Thames Water hit the headlines back in March this year, with the supplier fined £2.3 million for failing to address faulty equipment at a sewage treatment plant.


This particular case saw a stream polluted with sewage and 1,444 fish killed, as well as other water life. An investigation by the Environment Agency found that ammonia levels in Fawley Court Ditch were double the allowed limits, with the stream losing nearly all its fish to the pollution. It took nearly a year to recover.


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