Copies of earlier notices are available by contacting dwi.enquiries@defra.gov.uk

20 September 2022 – South West Water fined for drinking water offence

At Plymouth Magistrates Court on the 13 September 2022, South West Water was fined £233,333, plus a £170 victim surcharge and costs of £60,320.73 were awarded.

During a six-week period from the end of June 2018 consumers in the Barnstaple and Ilfracombe areas of North Devon complained of an unacceptable taste and odour in their tap water which made the water undrinkable. The cause for the objectionable taste and odours was due to the presence two naturally occurring algal compounds known as 2-methyl-isoborneol (MIB) and geosmin which can effectively be removed by carbon treatment.

South West Water Ltd pleaded guilty to an offence under section 70 of the Water Industry Act 1991 for the supply of water unfit for human consumption.  The Inspectorate was critical that the company did not follow best practice to avoid or shorten the event and did not provide advice or alternative supplies when consumers found the taste of the water unacceptable.

In response, Marcus Rink, Chief Inspector of Drinking Water said

‘This prosecution was brought in the public interest because this was a known risk in the area, the company were previously warned over their inaction in an almost identical case and continued to fail the interests of their consumers by not putting drinking water quality first. I am content that the Court has recognised the minimum expectation required of a water company”.

Notes to editors:-

The Drinking Water Inspectorate checks that water companies in England and Wales supply drinking water that does not put consumers at risk, and that is wholesome and acceptable.

MIB and geosmin were detected in the final water throughout the year at both Bratton Fleming and Horedown. Concentrations started to increase in the raw and final water at Bratton Fleming in early May 2018 and in the raw and final water at Horedown in June 2018, yet no action was taken to optimise the dosing or prepare Loxhore Pond for being brought into use at Bratton Fleming to help reduce concentrations until the taste and odour issue was identified.

The company attempted to remove the compounds at Horedown and Bratton Fleming water treatment works by increasing the dose of powdered activated carbon (PAC) on the incoming supplies to both treatment works. The company’s efforts to remove the compounds were ineffective and mismanaged. No alternative supplies were made available to consumers throughout the duration of the event.

Although there was no direct health risk to consumers, the taste and odour issues caused widespread concern and media and social media interest.

The company has experience of similar events within their operating region but failed to apply any learning from previous events. The company water quality risk assessment had identified the risk of taste and odour occurring, however, the company failed to put suitable control measures in place. It is a criminal offence for a water company to supply water that is in breach of section 70 of the Water Industry Act. The Inspectorate investigates all drinking water quality events in England and Wales and will bring prosecutions if it believes that it has reliable evidence that an offence was committed, where the company does not have a defence that it took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence, and when such a prosecution is regarded as being in the public interest.

ENDS

25 May 2022 – Southern Water fined for drinking water offence

At Hove Crown Court yesterday, Southern water was fined £16,000 with a £170 victim surcharge, and additional costs of £49,401.95 were agreed out of court.

Between 1st April 2018 and 31st May 2018, Southern Water introduced sodium hypochlorite for the purposes of maintaining disinfection at High Park Booster Station but did not operate and maintain the process to keep disinfection by-products as low as possible. The company failed to adhere to the requirements of the relevant British Standard as required by the regulations, and consequently introduced the by-product sodium chlorate into the water supply above the World Health Organisation recommended concentration of 700 µg/l. The water supply was intended for human consumption, and it was subsequently supplied to premises within Brighton North Water Supply Zone

The charges were brought by the Drinking Water Inspectorate against Southern Water for failure to comply with Regulation 31(2) of the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016 (as amended).

Southern Water pleaded guilty to an offence under Regulation 33(3)(a), following a legal argument in which the water company failed in its attempt to have the case dismissed on two technicalities. The company argued that that the British Standard only applied at the time of delivery and did not include any subsequent improper storage which gave rise to the by-product, and, that disinfection is covered by another regulation which is not a prosecutable offence. The court did not agree with the first argument as it was considered that storage is an important part of the British Standard and introducing the product without subsequent control would be contrary to the clear purpose of the regulation. For the second argument, the court could find no reason why regulations could be considered as mutually exclusive as this was not the intent nor purpose and would make a mockery of the regulations

During sentencing the judge took into consideration that the company co-operated with the investigation and took immediate action to remedy supply.

In response, Marcus Rink, Chief Inspector of Drinking Water said

This prosecution was brought about because consumers rightly expect their water to be good clean and wholesome. This milestone judgement makes clear that drinking water quality is a continuous obligation throughout the whole supply system. The requirements for processes, standards, and materials, including storage of chemicals used in disinfection, do not just stop at a point or instance in time as a company may choose. Companies cannot undermine the purpose of the regulations by taking a narrow interpretation to avoid their wider duty, as water quality must come first to protect the public health.

Notes to editors :-

The Drinking Water Inspectorate checks that water companies in England and Wales supply drinking water that does not put consumers at risk, and that is wholesome and acceptable.

It is a criminal offence for a water company to breach the requirements of Regulation 31. Regulation 31 controls all products and substances (including treatment chemicals) which come into contact with drinking water during the treatment and distribution phases; the regulation ensures that no degradation of water quality is caused by the products and substances which are used.

The Inspectorate investigates all drinking water quality events in England and Wales and will bring prosecutions if it believes that it has reliable evidence that an offence was committed, where the company does not have a defence that it took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence, and when such a prosecution is regarded as being in the public interest.

During May 2018 48 consumers in Sussex were potentially exposed to a level of Sodium chlorate within their drinking water above the maximum World Health Organisation recommended concentration of 700 µg/l, The maximum concentration detected was 994 µg/l.

The Company failed to store the chemical in the correct manner and did not follow the requirements of the BS:EN901:2013 document. As such the sodium hypochlorite which is used to maintain a residual chlorination degraded and formed sodium chlorate.

A toxicological assessment determined that in this instance the actions by the Company to reduce the time consumers were exposed meant that the likelihood of any harm was remote.

Sodium chlorate is not visible in the concentrations involved and does not have a taste or smell. Therefore, consumers would have been unaware of any issues and would have continued to consume their drinking water as normal.

The Inspectorates investigation found that the risk assessment carried out by Southern Water on site repeatedly failed to adequately control the likelihood of degradation of sodium hypochlorite resulting in this event.

ENDS

17 May 2021 – Water sector to plug £2.7 billion into the green recovery

The water sector is set to invest £2.7bn in environmental projects to help the country build back greener.

Ofwat, in collaboration with Defra, the Environment Agency, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, and CCW, wrote to water companies last year and challenged them to identify ways to support the country’s green economic recovery from COVID-19. Companies were asked to bring forward new proposals and accelerating existing ones to deliver an innovative and more resilient future for customers, society and the environment.

Following that, Ofwat today sets out plans to support £850m of new, green investment projects. A further £1.9bn of future planned environmental projects will be brought forward to contribute to a green recovery.

Severn Trent Water, South Staffs Water, South West Water, Thames Water, and United Utilities have received initial backing from Ofwat for ambitious new proposals collectively worth over £850 million which will benefit the environment and create around 2500 jobs.

As part of this new package of investment, companies will commit over £155 million to eliminate harm caused by storm overflows and trial the creation of two new bathing rivers.

The new projects will also see companies collaborating with local partners to reduce the risk of flooding, protect habitats, and cut pollution by investing £89 million in catchment management and nature-based solutions. And there will be up to £171 million for measures to help customers save water, including in areas that currently abstract water from chalk streams. These proposals will help to restore and create a natural environment that current and future generations can be proud of.

These new schemes will be delivered alongside £1.9 billion of planned expenditure which has been brought forward by twelve water companies across England to further accelerate the green recovery and deliver hundreds of extra environmental schemes. These include measures to improve river quality and protect endangered species.

Several water companies are also accelerating parts of their existing 2020-25 plans, investing hundreds of millions earlier when it matters most for the economic recovery, at no additional cost to customers.

David Black, Interim Chief Executive at Ofwat said:

“Today marks an important step in this country’s green economic recovery with the water sector stepping up to make a difference. As part of these measures, we will see a collective package worth £2.7bn of new investment and accelerated expenditure to care for the environment, create jobs and support customers and communities to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From tackling the most pressing environmental issues, to providing economic stimulus with the backing of jobs and training, there has never been a more important time to act. These proposals can be of huge benefit for people and the planet when it is needed most.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

“£850m of new funding shows that water companies have risen to the challenge to help drive this country’s green recovery.

“I am particularly pleased to see increased investment to eliminate the harm from storm overflows, following calls by the Storm Overflows Taskforce to accelerate progress in this area.

“The investments announced today, in addition to a raft of measures being taken by the Government, will both benefit the environment and create more jobs as we build back better, and greener, from the pandemic.”

Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said:

“The green recovery is an opportunity to go further on net zero, nature-based solutions and environmental protection. It is hugely encouraging to see water companies accelerate investment to deliver real and lasting improvements.

“This demonstrates a renewed commitment to reduce pollution incidents and to prepare the country for escalating climate shocks like floods and demand for water during heatwaves. I look forward to seeing the results.”

Marcus Rink, Chief Inspector of Drinking Water in England, said:

“We are delighted to participate in this important initiative, collaborating with Government and other regulators to ensure that protection and enhancement of drinking water quality is given the right priority. We look forward to working with the relevant companies as the proposals progress.”

CCW quote

In assessing the new proposals, Ofwat collaborated with Defra, the Environment Agency, the DWI and CCW, and took their views into account. Ofwat will be consulting on these draft decisions before making final decisions in mid-July.

ENDS

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