Severn Trent Water has been ordered to pay £500,000 for discharging “thousands of gallons” of raw sewage at Sutton Park in the West Midlands.
According to the Environment Agency, the incident occurred due to a blockage in the water company’s sewer system within Sutton Park in November 2013.
Officers from Natural England found the sewage had spread across 1.15 hectares – an area slightly bigger than the size of an international rugby pitch.
Sewage had also entered a nearby ditch and travelled 700 metres into the Longmoor Brook to the Longmoor Pool within the park.
Severn Trent Water liaised with Natural England, the Environment Agency, Birmingham City Council and Historic England to produce a plan to remediate the site – soil and plants had to be scrapped up across the affected area to stop the spread of sewage contamination and around 0.65 hectares of rare and sensitive plants were destroyed.
Representatives from Natural England expressed concerns with the progress and efficiency of the clean-up operation, which ended in May 2014.
Emma Johnson, Natural England’s Area Manager for the West Midlands said: “There’s a lot of love for Sutton Park. It is used and enjoyed by many, it’s a prime site for wildlife and is part of the history of the West Midlands. The sewage spill incident caused by Severn Trent Water and the impact it had is amongst the worst damage to a SSSI [Sites of Specific Scientific Interest] that Natural England have witnessed.
“It’s particularly disappointing as water companies should have technology and processes in place to prevent this type of spill from happening. Natural England have supported and worked closely with the Environment Agency and I hope that the outcome of this prosecution helps highlight the importance of protected sites and the need to look out for them.”
A judge ruled the clean-up operation had been “slow and poorly managed” but the water company had ultimately taken all necessary steps to remediate the site and it made a long term commitment to restoring the affected area.
Severn Water Trent said it is “truly sorry” for the impact the sewer pipes blockage had on Sutton Park.
A spokesperson added: “Monitoring of the area, carried out over a number of years by specialist environmental consultants, showed there was no long-term impact to the site, to wildlife or to the local pools and streams. We’ve also been carrying out a review of our assets in and around the park to see if we can reduce the risk of pollution in the future. We’ve also installed special monitors on sewers throughout the park to give us an early warning of any potential blockages.
“Since this event in 2013 we’ve worked hard to improve our environmental performance across the whole of our region and have significantly reduced the number of pollution incidents we’ve had. Moving forward we’re investing millions of pounds to maintain our sewer pipes to prevent sewer flooding and blockages like this from happening in the first place.”
ELN recently set out along the banks of the River Thames and spoke to sailors, rowers and fishermen about issues with sewage and pollution and how the £4.2 billion Tideway Tunnel project will help keep sewage from leaking into London’s famous waterway.