The Environment Agency (EA) prosecuted UU after sewage polluted the River Medlock in 2014. A total 21,700 cubic metres of sewage was discharged into the water, having a ‘significant impact’ on fish stocks and water quality in the river, according to the EA.

In sentencing, HH Judge Potter said the company’s negligence had resulted in significant harm to the River Medlock. UU has apologised for the incident.

EA environment manager for Greater Manchester, Mark Easedale, said: “The Environment Agency take pollution incidents very seriously and this case should send a strong message to companies of the potential consequences if they damage the environment. 

“The sewage that was discharged had a significant impact on the River Medlock, killing brown trout, which are a key indicator species of good water quality. The case demonstrates just how important it is that water companies and wider industries maintain their equipment in order to prevent pollution to the environment.

“We work closely with United Utilities who have undertaken extensive work to reduce their impact on the environment. It’s important that we continue to work with partners in order to safeguard the environment and ensure such incidents are avoided in the future.”

In a statement, UU wastewater network director Keith Haslett said: “We are investing £6 billion in the North West over the five years to 2020 and making major environmental improvements, but we failed in our responsibility on this occasion. We apologise to our customers because we do care, both personally and professionally.

“The incident was caused by a faulty control valve at our wastewater facility in Oldham. The valve door failed, due to a worn drive nut.

“In the three years since the incident we have upgraded alert systems, introduced new alarm procedures and enhanced the control valve. We are investing a further £50 million in improvements along the River Medlock.

“We hope that customers will be encouraged that our overall performance has improved considerably since 2014, something the Environment Agency has recognised by awarding us “Industry Leading” status in its most recent assessment.

“We are proud of our partnership with environmental groups across our region, and continue to work with them to improve rivers and the local environment. This fine will be paid by shareholders and not customers.”

The company was fined a total of £666,000 and ordered to pay costs of over £32,000.

Ellen Bennett

This article first appeared on edie’s sister title website, Utility Week

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