Northumbrian Water pays £165,000 for environmental damage after 2018 pollution incident

Northumbrian Water has agreed to pay £165,000 to a North East charity, following a discharge which led to an incident of pollution near Newcastle in 2018.

The North East water company has agreed the sum with the Tyne Rivers Trust, after causing the unauthorized discharge from its Horsley Water Treatment Works, which led to the pollution of Kitty’s Burn on the River Tyne.

Northumbrian Water in-turn submitted to Enforcement Undertaking to the Environment Agency, which has now been accepted.

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An enforcement undertaking is a voluntary civil sanction put forward by an offender to put right the effects of their offense – it is not an admission of guilt.

However, the Environment Agency may accept an Enforcement Undertaking where it has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person offering the undertaking has committed an offence.

Area Environment Manager, Rachael Caldwell, said: “All businesses, including water companies, have a responsibility to ensure their activities do not present a risk of harm to people and the environment.

“When companies fail to meet their environmental obligations, it’s a serious matter and we will take appropriate action, which may include civil sanctions.

“Enforcement undertakings allow companies who fail to comply with legal requirements, or pollute the environment, to positively address and restore any harm caused and prevent repeat incidents.

“This payment to Tyne Rivers Trust will help protect and enhance nature in the local area.”

Northumbrian Water had temporarily contracted a machine to separate liquids at the Horsley site to help the works cope with a period of increased demand, but staff used old drainage plans and mistakenly connected it to a surface water drain rather than a foul sewer.

As a result, the liquid from the process – called centrate, produced when sludge is de-watered – was discharged into a drain which led to Kitty Burn, and which then flowed about 1.3km into the River Tyne.

The Environment Agency attended on 2 November 2018 and inquiries revealed the discharge had been happening sporadically for around eight weeks, with almost eight million liters of centrate discharged.

Sampling indicated there had been minimal impact on the ecology of the river.

The Enforcement Undertaking offer from Northumbrian Water also details how it has introduced standard operating procedures to ensure that all sites have colour-coded drain covers and on-site signage, that all drains are to be identified and checked against a current site drainage plan, and it has invested in new machinery.

Northumbrian Water’s Horsley Treatment Works

The donation to the Tyne Rivers Trust will be split between a project on the River Don at Primrose, an innovative farming project in the Ouseburn and South Tyneside catchments, and Tyneside Catchment Partnership communications.

Since 2015, the Environment Agency has secured water company court fines of over £137 million.

Most recently, Northumbrian Water was fined £240,000 at Newcastle Crown Court for polluting County Burn in March 2017.

In October 2021 they were also fined £540,000 at Durham Crown Court for polluting a watercourse that runs through Heads Hope Dene in Castle Eden in May 2017.

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