Water company fined again as public faces price hike

Thames Water have been sued again by the Environment Agency (EA) for pollution negligence amidst reports that the company will push its water prices up by 3%.

After pleading guilty to polluting the River Mimram in Hertfordshire with raw sewage when a blockage caused raw effluent to seep into the surface water drains, the water company was ordered to pay a £12,000 fine, along with the EA’s costs of £1,020.

The incident, caused by a blockage in the sewer which allowed raw effluent to seep into the surface water drains and flow into local residents’ grounds, resulted in considerable pollution and damage to a 100m stretch.

Investigating Environment Officer, Clare Richards, said an overflow had occurred in exactly the same spot in August 2003 and Thames Water had assured the EA that the overflow would be sealed up. However, no action was taken in time to prevent the second incident from occurring.

“Thames Water’s failure to seal the overflow after the first pollution meant that when another blockage occurred, sewage was once again able to reach the river,” Ms Richards stated. “This prosecution shows that the EA will not tolerate negligence when there is a known risk of pollution.”

This fine also follows a string of embarrassing pollution incidents in the UK this summer (see related story), caused by the heavy rain and inadequate combined sewage and stormwater overflow facilities (CSOs) which sparked serious health concerns for water sports enthusiasts (see related story) as well as the state of the UK’s coastal areas (see related story).

Following negotiations between Thames Water and the EA to find solutions to the UK’s ailing water systems last month (see related story), the Government this week approved the company’s proposed price hikes, which it claims will enable new pipes to be laid and significant improvements to be made.

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member, Dee Doocey, said she felt that Thames Water had no excuse not to find the funds to mend leaky pipes or stop raw sewage being pumped into rivers when they were “paying huge salaries to their directors” and turning over massive profits every year.

“Serious questions need to be asked about why Thames Water has failed to tackle the rebuilding of our leaking and crumbling sewage system, and why despite making massive profits, it is the customer who is being asked to pay for the improvements,” Ms Doocey stated.

However, Thames Water spokesman Chris Shipway told edie the company had been putting at least one third of its profits back into developing its systems since it was privatised in 1989, and that it frequently borrowed money to fund improvements.

“We are ready and willing to put solutions into place,” he said. “Our biggest priorities at this time are tackling sewer flooding and replacing aging water mains, which are also the main priorities set out by our customers.”

Mr Shipway added that, even with the price hike, it would not be possible to upgrade all the sewage works completely, but that he was confident that consumers would see a definite improvement in services following the proposed 3% rise in water rates.

By Jane Kettle

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