In one of the cases, South West Water was fined £28,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £3,935 after failing to respond speedily enough to a sewage spill caused by a blockage at the Milford Park pumping station in Teignmouth, Devon.
The second case related to a failure at the treatment plant at Dunkeswell, near Honiton, where a broken screening device, compounded by a series of problems, led to sewage discharges between May 2013 and May 2014. For this it was fined £45,000 with costs of £5,700 and a £240 victim surcharge.
On 27th June 2013, the pumping station at Milford Park became partially blocked when a penstock valve broke and fell into the 30 per cent shut position.
Sewage accumulated in the pumping station and in the surrounding sewers until it spilled from three locations – the rugby club combined sewage outflow which leads into the Bitton Brook for 18 hours, from Milford Park into the Teign Estuary for 16 hours and also a manhole next to the rugby club.
Starting at 8.50pm, alarms and signals were transmitted from Milford Park pumping station to South West Water’s control centre, warning of the problems. The court heard that there had been an hour and a half delay on South West Water’s part in responding to the alarms.
Richard Fisher for the Environment Agency said: “South West Water had already recorded the site as at risk after a large rag ball had been trapped in the pumping station. The company had arranged for the rag ball to be removed on 4th July. This made the problems experienced on 27th June worse but did not cause them. The sewage spill affected the nearby beaches at Teignmouth with 2 bathing water beaches failing the water quality testing standards on the day.”
The court heard that South West Water had since improved the works at the Milford Park pumping station.
The treatment plant at Dunkeswell was already scheduled for improvement works when discharges breached agreed limits between May 2013 and May 2014.
There had been five occasions when waste that entered the stream exceeded the limits for pollution set in the permit. On occasions concern had been expressed about the condition of the site and planned site visits were missed. The court took into account the frequent number of visits the company paid to the site, and the steps that had been taken to rectify problems.
Mischka Hewins for the Environment Agency said: “There were on-going problems with sludge rising in the settlement tank, which were specifically raised on over 19 occasions and led to knock on problems with the filters. The inlet screen, which is of fundamental importance to the site, was also not working. South West Water should have seen that problems were leading to the likelihood of breaches of permit and done more to prevent it.”
The court heard the plant had been identified as in need of improvement in 2007 and by 2013 was due for investment under South West Water’s Glidepath programme.
A growth in population in the area it served put increased pressure on the Dunkeswell site and most of the problems could be traced to a failure of the screening device at its inlet.
This led to a build-up of too much sludge for the filter system which had to be repeatedly cleared by South West Water.