Severn Trent Water has been fined £480,000 by Sheffield Crown Court – one of the biggest fines ever given to a water company.
The Environment Agency said that proceedings were brought against Severn Trent following pollution incidents where raw sewage leaked into a farmer’s field and a pond in a private fishery in February and March last year.
The EA said that the water company’s pipeline that transported raw sewage to a treatment plant ruptured, leading to four pollution incidents in a year. It said that the pollution had directly contributed to fish deaths and samples taken suggested that it had also affected the local invertebrate community including freshwater shrimps.
In passing sentence, the judge stated that both offences were committed negligently and that the harm to the environment was localised, and therefore minor, albeit significant to those affected by the incident. It also said that the offences had been aggravated by the fact that warnings for two previous incidents had been issued.
Speaking after the case, an Environment Agency officer involved with the investigation said: “We were particularly concerned that, after two formal warnings from the Environment Agency about sewage leaking into fields and watercourses, the third rupture was undetected by Severn Trent Water and there was then yet another incident in the same location.
“This is one of the largest fines ever to be imposed on a water company, and I hope it sends a strong message that it is far more cost effective to avoid these incidents, as we will continue to take companies and individuals to task where they ignore their responsibilities.”
A Severn Trent spokesperson said: “We are truly sorry for the impact our burst pipe had on the farmland and its local environment in Wickersley last year. At the time we worked closely with the Environment Agency to clean up the land affected, re-stock the fish in the river, and reduce the impact the burst had on the wider area. Since then we have spent nearly a quarter of a million pounds to replace the damaged pipe with a new, more robust one to prevent it from happening again.
“Over the last 12 months we’ve worked hard to improve our environmental performance across the whole of our region, and have significantly reduced the number of pollution incidents we’ve had. The pipe that burst in Wickersley was what we call a ‘rising main’, a pipe that is connected to our pumping station to pump sewage onto our treatment works. Moving forward we’re investing £21 million over the next five years to replace many of these ageing rising mains to prevent them from bursting in the first place.”