Water company awaits sentencing after sewage released into Chichester Harbour

Southern Water could be facing an unlimited fine after discharging large volumes of raw sewage into protected coastal waters for six years.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 1:58 pm

After its biggest ever investigation, the Environment Agency brought a prosecution against Southern Water Services Ltd in relation to 51 environmental offences from 16 Wastewater Treatment Works (WwTW) and one Combined Sewer Overflow.

Guilty pleas were entered to all the offences, some of which took place at Chichester Harbour and span a period of six years, between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2015.

The court documents read: “The offending in this case concerns not only the coast of Kent, but Sussex, including Chichester Harbour, and Hampshire. The whole area is used for amenities and there are a number of areas for shell fisheries.”

Chichester Harbour at Prinsted. Picture by Steve Robards

An enforcement notice was served on Southern Water Services in April 2013, requiring a number of steps to be taken towards bringing the storm discharge at the WwTW into ‘compliance with the permit’ and ‘minimising its impact on Chichester Harbour’.

“The storm discharge was identified as a significant contributory factor in the high nitrate and bacteria levels observed within Chichester Harbour,” a spokesperson said.

Southern Water was then required to; provide ultraviolet disinfection on the storm tank discharge to Chichester Harbour by March 31, 2014; carry out an investigation into the impacts of nitrates in the storm discharge upon weed growth in Chichester Harbour and carry out an infiltration investigation of the Chichester wastewater infrastructure. The court spokesperson added: “From the point at which the ultraviolet disinfection on the storm discharge became operational in April 2014, the bacterial impact on the shellfish water has decreased.

“An improvement in shellfish flesh sample quality can be seen in the monitoring results since this time.”

The sentencing hearing began at Canterbury Crown Court on Tuesday and will finish on Friday.

The court will ‘determine the full extent of offending’ before deciding on a sentence ‘immediately afterward’.

The maximum sentence for each offence when tried on indictment is an unlimited fine in the case of organisations. The maximum sentence for individuals when tried on indictment is an unlimited fine and/or five years imprisonment.