Thames Water has been fined £2m after raw sewage polluted a stream in Oxfordshire, killing almost 150 bullhead fish.
Judge Peter Ross, at Oxford Crown Court on 21 December, said ‘numerous’ failures in the management of a sewage pumping station operated by the company led to sewage created by two villages emptying into a brook that leads to the River Evenlode, a tributary of the River Thames, for up to 24 hours.
The court heard Thames Water ignored more than 800 high-priority alarms needing attention within four hours in the six weeks before the incident. Another 300 alarms were not properly investigated, all of which would have pointed out failures with the pumping station, according to the Environment Agency.
Investigations by the Environment Agency revealed Thames Water was aware the pumping station failed several times in the 12 months up to and including the incident in August 2015.
Robert Davis, who led the investigation for the Environment Agency, said: ‘This incident was foreseeable and avoidable. Thames Water didn’t recognise the increased risk to the environment, ignoring or failing to respond adequately to more than 1,000 alarms.
‘These streams are normally a haven for kingfishers, grey herons, brown trout and other fish and invertebrates. Sewage poured into the water for 24 hours, having a terrible impact, killing fish and other water life.’
‘We hope this prosecution sends a loud and clear message that the Environment Agency will not accept poor operation, management and maintenance of sewage pumping stations. Where we have evidence of offending and serious pollution incidents like here, we will take appropriate action to bring polluters to justice.’
Richard Aylard, External Affairs and Sustainability Director at Thames Water, called the incident ‘regrettable’.
‘We take our role in protecting the environment extremely seriously and are really sorry for what happened here in 2015,’ he said.
‘We have made a series of improvements since this regrettable incident, including bringing in more people, more maintenance, more training and better systems. In the three-and-a-half-years since, we have not had a serious incident at any of our 4,700 pumping stations.
‘We would like to reassure our customers that we continue to innovate and drive further improved performance right across the business, to help us achieve our ambition of zero pollutions.’