River Fowey
River Fowey. Image/https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5324193

Water company South West Water has been slapped with a £2.15 million fine for dumping sewage into water bodies in Devon and Cornwall counties.

The company has been fined for 13 environmental offences carried out between August 2016 and August 2022. It has previously pleaded guilty at Plymouth Magistrates Court to 13 counts of unauthorised releases and breaches of environmental permits.

The incidents reportedly took place at sewage treatment works and pumping stations at Crediton and Kilmington in Devon and Lostwithiel, Torpoint, and Watergate Bay in Cornwall.

The UK Environment Agency revealed that a spill at Kilmington caused the deaths of thousands of fish during the aforementioned period.

It added that raw sewage was also pumped into the River Fowey for more than 12 hours, while another illegal discharge from the Watergate Bay sewage continued for more than 35 hours, according to a report in The Guardian.

The samples from a stream near the pumping station showed E. coli levels in it that were 2,000 times higher than a poor rating. Sewage from the Torpoint sewage treatment works was allowed to be pumped into the St. John's Lake Site on two occasions, according to the EA.

E. coli is a type of bacteria found in the gut that is mostly harmless, but certain types can cause bloody diarrhoea and abdominal pain, as well as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is potentially fatal.

District Judge Matson said, "incidents of pollution will no longer be tolerated by these courts." The private company has also been ordered to pay £280,000 in costs and a £170 victim surcharge on top of the fine.

The Environment Agency has welcomed the decision stating that the "polluter must pay."

"We welcome this sentence. Serious pollution is a serious crime – and we have been clear that the polluter must pay," said Alan Lovell, the chair of the EA.

"The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature and will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties," she added.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Pennon Group, which owns South West Water, said in a statement that the pollution caused by the company was "unacceptable."

"Any pollution incident is one too many," said CEO Susan Davy. "I also want to be clear that this didn't happen because we don't care, we do. Everyone who works for South West Water is extremely passionate about our environment, and we need to do more to prove this to our customers and visitors to our region."

This is not the first time that a water company in the UK has come under fire for its careless attitude towards the safety of the water that is being used by people. In 2022, the UK's Environment Agency found that as many as nine water and sewerage companies in England had failed to perform.

The agency assessed nine such companies for the year 2021 and found that their performance had fallen to its lowest level.

The report found that these firms continued to allow sewage to be discharged into water bodies in the UK. Southern Water and South West Water received just one-star ratings, while Anglian, Thames, Wessex, and Yorkshire were rated only two stars for their dismal performance.

The agency had called for their chief executives and board members to be jailed. It was also noted that the fines being handed down by the courts have not been able to deter these firms from taking the environment for granted.

A House of Commons Committee report also found that water companies have been dumping untreated or partially treated sewage in rivers on a regular basis.

However, none of the reports or court actions have been able to teach a lesson to these firms so far. It now remains to be seen if the strict action taken against South West Water manages to force these water and sewage companies to refrain from discharging waster water in UK water bodies.