UK Water Company Fined £2.65 million for Discharging Sewage into the Sea

Published: 02 May 2023

Anglian Water Authority Biosolids Treatment Centre - - 680388Anglian Water was fined £2.65 million for its inability to prevent high quantities of untreated sewage from pouring out into the North Sea. (Photo: Martin Pearman/Anglian Water Authority Biosolids Treatment Centre, Wikimedia, License)

By Henry Pope

U.K. water treatment company, Anglian Water, pleaded guilty on Friday to allowing untreated sewage to overflow into the North Sea and was fined 2.65 million pounds (US$3.31 million).

The company accepted responsibility for its role in a series of failures at Essex’s Jaywick Water Recycling Centre, which led to the discharge of high quantities of untreated sewage into the sea.

An investigation conducted between June and July 2018 found that 7.5 million liters of waste - enough to fill more than 3 Olympic-sized swimming pools - seeped into the surrounding environment.

The company was criticized for its lack of an alarm system at the recycling center, which could have informed personnel of the emergency as it occurred. Additionally, the company failed to replace decommissioned equipment that could have prevented the waste from entering the North Sea.

“More could and should have been done,” said District Judge King, who presided over the sentencing. He added that it should not have been up to Environment Agency officers to identify the outbreak during a routine inspection when Anglian Water personnel are on site every day.

Since the incident, Anglian Water has addressed several issues at its Essex site, such as implementing a regular cleaning regime and raising the height of its storm flow barriers to reduce the possibility of premature overflows.

U.K. water companies have self-monitored their recycling sites since 2010, with government agents conducting quality control inspections on-site every eight years.

The government did not immediately respond when asked why inspections occur so infrequently or if it has any plans to impose more oversight on the country's water treatment companies.

“Polluters should always be held to account,” said Senior Environment Officer Jeremy Hay.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow vowed that all fines will be paid into the country’s Water Restoration Fund “to support projects that will help improve our natural environment and our water quality.”

This is not the first time Anglian Water has faced repercussions for its inability to prevent sewage overflows from contaminating the surrounding environment.

In October 2022, the company was fined 871,000 pounds ($976,200) for its inability to prevent an outbreak of spills in June 2019, with one in Hartwell, Northamptonshire resulting in dead aquatic invertebrates being discovered as far as 1,500 meters from the contamination site.

In December 2022, Anglian Water was fined 560,000 pounds ($730,394) for allowing roughly four million liters of sewage discharge to contaminate a four-kilometer stretch of a local river.

District Judge King said that the fact that “Anglian Water finds itself in court so frequently” was reflected in the seriousness of the fine.

He added that “a clear pattern of the company not responding adequately” to previous penalties influenced his decision to multiply the final sum.

While Anglian Water has admitted that it is not performing up to standards in some areas, “protecting, restoring and improving our region’s environment is at the heart of our business, and we take this responsibility incredibly seriously,” a spokesperson previously told OCCRP.

The company pledged last October to reinvest more than 200 million pounds ($225 million) in its storm spill infrastructure to outbreaks across the East of England region by 2025.

Despite this recent spillage, the country has seen a marked reduction in serious incidents caused by water treatment companies over the past several decades, from more than 500 in the early 1990s down to just 62 in 2021.