Anglian Water pumped four million litres of sewage into River Wid in Essex

Thousands of fish were killed when Anglian Water allowed untreated sewage to flow into the River Wid in Essex in 2016.
Anglian Water has previously been fined £300,000 when untreated sewage in the River Wid killed 5,000 fish in 2016. Credit: Environment Agency

A water firm pumped nearly four million litres of sewage into a river - because it did not have alarm system software that would have cost just £205 to install.

The failures at Anglian Water's treatment works led to pollution in the River Wid which killed fish and invertebrates along three kilometres of the river in Essex.

An Environment Agency investigation found failures from the water company in planning, managing, and monitoring at the Doddinghurst Water Recycling Centre, near Brentwood, Essex.

The firm was fined more than half a million pounds at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court after enough sewage to fill a swimming pool was discharged into a river, the court heard.

The recycling centre near Chelmsford, is responsible for treating sewage from around 6,600 local people and discharges treated sewage into the upper Wid.

The court heard how a fault in an aeration process at the Wyatts Green site on 28 September 2018 meant 3.9 million litres of harmful sewage discharged into the tributary of the River Wid.

This was compounded by the lack of an early alarm system which would usually alert staff of any issues.

This could have been avoided, the court heard, if software, costing £205, had been fitted to the system retrospectively when a fault occurred on the same part of the process earlier in the year.

The malfunction was not spotted for two-and-half days, until 1 October 2018, when an operative from Anglian Water, who was visiting the site, saw the aerators were not working.

As a result, around four kilometres of the River Wid experienced high levels of ammonia for six days after the failure.

This damaged the river’s ecosystem and killed a number of protected species including a fish known as the bullhead.

Anglian Water was ordered to pay a fine of £536,000, costs of £27,439.21 and a victim surcharge of £170 at court.

District Judge Sam Goozee described Anglian Water’s record as "lamentable".

Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan said: “We welcome this sentence. Serious pollution is a serious crime. The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature. It will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties for those which do not.”

Gavin Senior of the Environment Agency said: “The fine handed to Anglian Water shows polluters are made to pay for damaging the environment.

“The invertebrate and fish population in this area, including a protected species, suffered significantly because of this sewage pollution and it took time for the local ecosystem to recover.

“The public demand tough action when it comes to water quality and we are delivering. Anyone caught breaching environmental laws faces enforcement action, up to and including prosecution.

“We will always ensure the courts have all the information they need to impose appropriate sentences.”

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