Thames Water has been ordered to pay more than £700,000 in fines and costs for polluting the Maidenhead Ditch in Berkshire – killing fish and leaving many in distress.
The case was brought by the Environment Agency after Thames Water caused pollution from their site at Maidenhead Sewage Treatment works (STW) to enter the Maidenhead Ditch - which joins the River Cut – a tributary of the Thames which is home to Bray Marina, South East Water’s public water supply waterworks as well as a well-used amenity for paddle borders and other water users.
Thames Water were ordered to pay fines of £607,000, costs of £100,000 and a victim surcharge of £120 at Aylesbury Crown Court.
The court heard how in June 2014, Thames Water caused pollution of the watercourse with raw sewage. Maidenhead STW has a permit to discharge storm sewage in storm conditions into the watercourse. The permit aims to deal with the high flows which can result during periods of extreme rainfall. In June 2014 there were no extreme weather conditions.
Maidenhead STW also has another permit to discharge treated final effluent into the watercourse as it includes human waste, a variety of pollutants, organic materials and chemicals. However, the Environment Agency told the court how Thames Water did not meet the conditions of these permits around the time of the incident. The court heard how sewage and partially treated sewage respectively ended up in the watercourse as a result of poorly performing equipment.
Environment Agency officers attended the site as soon as a member of the public alerted the incident hotline after witnessing a grey and odorous cloud of polluted water entering the Maidenhead Ditch and River Cut from the Sewage Treatment Works.
Officers carried out monitoring for water quality and took water samples of the watercourse at various locations. The results revealed very low dissolved oxygen levels – indicating that oxygen was stripped from the water as a consequence of the pollution.
Investigations carried out by Environment Agency officers’ revealed further failures by TWUL management. This involved repeated discharges of untreated or poorly treated raw sewage into the river and failing to react adequately to alarms used to alert them to the serious problems. Log book entries suggest ongoing discharges and other problems at a site that was struggling to cope.
Colin Chiverton, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency in Berkshire, said:
Our officers believe up to around 30 million litres of sewage polluted the ditch. Hundreds of fish died and the environment suffered as a result of Thames Water’s failures. Pollution could and should have been avoided had the many warnings and alerts leading up to the incident been acknowledged and dealt with properly.
We take these types of incidents very seriously and will do everything within our powers to safeguard the environment and people affected, and that includes holding those who put the environment at risk to account for their actions.
This case is about the pollution of two local waterways. Thames Water entered guilty pleas to the following two Summons at the first hearing before Maidenhead Magistrates’ Court on 14 November 2018:
On or before 23 June 2014 at Maidenhead Sewage Treatment Works (STW), Stafferton Way, Maidenhead, Berkshire, you failed to comply with or you contravened an environmental permit condition, namely TEMP.2757 Schedule 3 Condition 1.1, in that the discharge from the storm tank did not consist of storm sewage effluent resulting from rainfall or snowmelt into the sewerage system, contrary to Regulation 38(2) of the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010.
On 7 August 2014 at Maidenhead Sewage Treatment Works (STW), Stafferton Way, Maidenhead, Berkshire, you failed to comply with or you contravened an environmental permit condition, namely CNTD.0035 Schedule 01 Condition 8 (b) (i), in that the discharge contained more than 50 milligrammes per litre of biochemical oxygen demand (measured after 5 days at 200C with nitrification suppressed by the addition of Allyl-thiourea), contrary to Regulation 38(2) of the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010.