Water company admits breach of controls

PUBLISHED: 16:30 04 July 2015 | UPDATED: 18:10 05 July 2015

South West Water headquarters. Ref mhh 0001-27-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

South West Water headquarters. Ref mhh 0001-27-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

Archant

South West Water's treatment plant at Dunkeswell, near Honiton, was already scheduled for improvement works when discharges breached agreed limits during the summer of 2013.

South West Water has admitted breaking environmental controls at a waste plant where a broken screening device caused a series of breakdowns.

The treatment plant at Dunkeswell, near Honiton, was already scheduled for improvement works when discharges breached agreed limits during the summer of 2013.

The Environment Agency calculated there had been 13 occasions when waste with too much sludge residue entered the stream which runs past the plant, although South West Water (SWW) believed there were only five.

The company admitted breaching the agreed discharge limits when they appeared at Exeter Crown Court in a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency (EA).

Judge Phillip Wassall adjourned sentence until next month to allow time to examine bulky bundles of documents supplied by both sides and to study the guideline cases. The likely outcome is a fine.

Mrs Judith Constable, prosecuting, said the plant at Dunkeswell exceeded discharge limits on 13 occasions within a 12-month period, which was far higher than the number allowed under the agreement between SWW and the EA.

She said the levels had been calculated according to the ecological needs of the river, so it must be assumed there had been some minor impact from the breaches.

She said the plant had been identified as in need of improvement in 2007 and by 2013 was due for investment under SWW’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 cleared by repeated visits from SWW operatives.

She said: “This was a plant which was teetering on failure and sometimes falling over the line.

“The EA sees this case on the borderline between negligence and recklessness.”

Mr Martin Meeke, QC, defending, said tens of thousands of pounds have now been spent improving Dunkeswell including £59,000 on a system to control discharges.

He said: “It was not for lack of investment or lack of effort that these excedences occurred. There is no evidence of any adverse impact on the river. There was no fish kill and no sewage fungus.”

He said the company records showed not only numerous visits by its own staff but also by outside contractors and consultants and the overall compliance rate had been 92 per cent.

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