The water company pled guilty at Brighton Magistrates Court on Monday (22 August) to the offence at its pumping station, and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,187 in costs, along with a £15 victim surcharge.

Southern Water contacted the Environment Agency in April last year notifying them of the spill, and originally claimed the sewage discharge had been triggered by heavy rainfall.

It said a deluge of rainwater, which lasted 39 minutes on 7 April 2010, meant the pumping station was unable to handle the volume and caused sewage to overflow into a nearby stream.

However, Environment Agency investigations revealed that there had been no rainfall in the area since 4 April 2010, concluding that the rate of flow in the incoming sewer should not have been exceeded.

Discharges from overflow pipes are permitted by the Environment Agency under strict conditions stating how and when they can be used.

Southern Water has now admitted the spill was the result of the operational failure of one of one of its pumps, rather than heavy rainfall as it first alleged.

The Environment Agency called the spill “an avoidable incident” and said it will be working with Southern Water in the future to prevent future occurrences.

The Environment Agency’s, Michael Turner, said: “This pollution incident could have been prevented with effective maintenance of the pumping station. Southern Water have committed to report to us any further incidents quickly and accurately, so we can work with them to take action to prevent damage to the environment.”

Southern Water apologised for the incident and said there was no evidence of damage to the environment as a result of the discharge.

Carys Matthews

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie