Southern Water has been fined £ 90million for deliberately dumping billions of liters of raw sewage into protected seas over several years for its own financial gain.
Judge Jeremy Johnson, condemning the privatized water company, said it had dumped between 16 billion and 21 billion liters of raw sewage into some of the country’s most precious and delicate environments.
“These offenses show a shocking and general disregard for the environment, for precious and delicate ecosystems and coasts, for human health, and for fishing and other legitimate businesses that operate in coastal waters,” said the judge.
He said the company had a history of criminal activity for its “past and persistent pollution of the environment.” He had already committed 168 infractions and warnings, but ignored them and did not change his behavior. “There is no evidence that the company was aware of the penalties imposed or the court’s remarks. His offense just continued, ”he said.
The judge said the fine he imposed should act as a deterrent to other companies and hoped it could inspire shareholders to ensure the utility improves its regulatory compliance.
The accusation follows the largest investigation ever by the Environment Agency, which revealed a “very serious generalized crime” of the company over a period of almost six years, known at the highest level. . The public service is at the center of an ongoing criminal investigation into more recent spills.
For nearly six years, Southern Water has deliberately dumped huge volumes of untreated sewage into the seas off northern Kent and Hampshire to avoid financial penalties and the cost of upgrading and maintaining facilities. infrastructure.
The company, with operating profits of £ 213million in 2019, covered up its actions with a “very significant underreporting” of the number of illegal pollution spills it had caused, the company said. Canterbury Crown Court.
Since 2010, water companies have been authorized to report pollution incidents themselves.
Southern Water’s investigation uncovered the worst environmental crime in the Environment Agency’s 25-year history.
Pollution damaged the shellfish industry as fecal bacteria contaminated its product, rendering the businesses unsustainable. Almost all of the waters that received raw sewage were covered by national and international environmental protections.
The judge said the company’s overall position on the investigation was obstructive. “The cooperation was reluctant, partial and inadequate,” he said.
Southern has pleaded guilty to 51 counts of knowingly allowing the entry into coastal waters of toxic, noxious or polluting material or waste or sewage effluent, namely untreated sewage, otherwise as authorized by an environmental permit. Each load represented months and, in some cases, a year of discharge in the various treatment plants.
The investigation covered 17 company-owned wastewater treatment plants in North Kent and Hampshire. He found that between January 2010 and December 2015, the company purposely operated its processing plants below capacity. Instead of treating the wastewater as required by law, it stored millions of liters of wastewater in storm basins before releasing it into the seas, sometimes in discharges that lasted for weeks.
The spill gave the company a ‘huge financial advantage’ as it avoided penalties of more than £ 90million, according to Ofwat, for failing to meet strict standards on the discharge of wastewater.
Between 2010 and 2015, there were 8,400 illegal discharges of raw sewage. The case involved 6,971 illegal spills which amounted to 61,704 hours of release, or a duration of seven years.
Andrew Marshall, prosecuting, said there was “long-term business knowledge” of the situation. The water system infrastructure was collapsing and Southern did not maintain, repair or replace vital machinery.
David Jarrad, chief executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, called for the fine to be used to reward the industry. He also said the Environment Agency – whose budget has been slashed from £ 120million to £ 40million – should receive part of the millions instead of the Treasury.
“The sad thing about this is that yes it will hit Southern Water hard in its pocket. It will benefit the treasury, but will it repair the damage to the industry and the damage to the environment? Jarrad said.
“If an oil tanker had sunk and spilled oil in protected waters, the oil company would have to pay millions to repair the damage to the environment. But with the water companies, that doesn’t happen.
In mitigation, Southern, who pleaded guilty to 51 counts, argued that the sewage discharge was not deliberate. Richard Matthews QC, for Southern, argued that this was the result of a series of “deeply regrettable” mechanical and technological defects at 17 sites between 2010 and 2015.
Matthews apologized on behalf of the new board of directors and CEO Ian McAulay for “serious failures in his wastewater treatment”. He said the company is now absolutely committed to transformation, transparency and cultural change.
Southern Water provides water to 2.6 million customers and sanitation services to over 4.7 million customers in Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.