Sunday, 15 July 2018
A JUDGE has warned Thames Water that it faces its biggest fine ever after it dumped tens of millions of litres of raw sewage into the River Thames.
Hundreds of fish and birds died over a two-year period when “out of control” treatment centres owned by the supplier sent untreated water into rivers in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, a court heard onnFriday.
Levels of ammonia described as being “devastating to life” were detected during tests on the river in Henley and 50 dead fish were spotted floating on the surface.
Failings at a pumping station in Oxford and treatment plants in Henley and Didcot contributed to the Thames, Wye and Thame rivers being polluted between 2013 and 2014, Aylesbury Crown Court heard on Friday.
Thames Water Utilities admitted several charges of unlawful discharge and breaching ammonia levels under the Environmental Permitting Regulations. The company will be sentenced on February 22 and could be ordered to pay compensation to people who were affected.
Judge Francis Sheridan said: “This is likely to be the biggest fine Thames Water has ever faced.”
He also alluded to comedian David Walliams’s 140-mile swim in the Thames in 2011 and said it was no wonder he had taken ill afterwards.
Sailesh Mehta, prosecuting on behalf on the Environment Agency, described the problem at the Henley treatment centre.
He said: “An officer attended and let effluent out and could smell sewage and could see brown scum.
“Logbook entries going back to May 17, 2013 show there was a comment that storm tanks had been in use and foam had been building up in the final settlement tank. Days after, there were concerns about the diversion to storm tanks and on June 4 sewage was seen in the river.”
The court was told that the following month an Environment Agency officer spotted at least 50 dead fish.
The treatment centre was under-using its capacity by dealing with 67 litres per second rather than the figure of 85 litres per second it should be able to handle.
Mr Mehta said that a priority alarm, which should be responded to immediately, was tended to almost six hours later. Another alarm, which should have been dealt with within two hours, took 37 hours to be responded to.
Mr Mehta said Thames Water workers in Aylesbury logged the issues, which included cases of illegal discharge.
One entry in the logbook branded the lack of action a “failure waiting to happen” after it emerged management did nothing to resolve ongoing problems of sewage discharge into the river.
Mr Mehta said that in Little Marlow anywhere between eight and 32 million litres of waste flowed into the river each day.
Previous management had posted a list of do’s and don’ts around the sewage treatment plant in 2006 in a bid to keep troubles under wraps.
The judge labelled it a “deplorable document” as Mr Mehta read instructions from the “don’ts” section.
One read: “Don’t discuss your views on the cause of the problems with any customer, the Environment Agency or the press.”
But after hearing about the amount of sanitary towels, condoms and nappies being found, Judge Sheridan said: “It’s not all down to Thames Water. There’s a responsibility for everyone to use the sewage system properly.”
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