Anglian Water has paid a monetary penalty of £150,000 following an investigation by the Environment Agency after sewage was released into the River Til.
The incident happened in 2018 after contractors working for the water company used a tanker jetter to unblock a sewer after sewage gathered in a field in Yielden, Bedfordshire.
This increase in flow caused the small rural Yielden Water Recycling Centre to become overwhelmed resulting in sewage discharging into the river.
The impact to the River Til was limited to 660 metres but ammonia levels were high. Dissolved oxygen was also depressed at a level likely to impact fish but there was no evidence of any dead fish or invertebrates.
Anglian Water reported the pollution to the Environment Agency and took action to clean it up. Other measures were taken to prevent a similar incident happening in the future.
Although Anglian Water had a nine bullet point environmental procedure document to deal with such incidents. There was no adequate written procedure setting out how to assess specific environmental risks and how to overcome them to prevent pollution from small sites like Yielden.
On May 4 2023, the Environment Agency imposed a Variable Monetary Penalty (VMP) on Anglian Water Services Ltd of £150,000 and costs to the Environment Agency of £4,428.33. This was the first time a water company in England has paid a VMP in relation to a pollution incident.
Jeremy Hay, Senior Environment Officer at the Environment Agency, said:
“Polluters should always be held to account, and, as much as our resources allow, we will always investigate significant pollution incidents and bring those responsible to justice.
“We are pleased with the success of this type of civil sanction, which we hope will change behaviour. It’s vital that future civil sanctions are not only proportionate but also an effective deterrent to all who pollute our rivers and waters.”
The Government has recently completed a consultation on strengthening the abilities of the Environment Agency to issue monetary penalties for environmental offences and to raise the cap for such penalties. This will involve increasing the overall cap for variable monetary penalties in the Environmental Civil Sanctions (England) Order 2010 from its current amount of £250,000. Also, introducing powers to issue variable monetary penalties for offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
The Environment Agency will run its own consultation to look in more detail at the details of the amended penalties.