Untreated sewage illegally piped into Windermere

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By Creative Media News

  • Millions of liters of sewage discharged into Windermere, England’s renowned lake
  • United Utilities failed to promptly notify Environment Agency of pollution
  • Environment Agency’s response to pollution incident under scrutiny

Due to a defect, millions of liters of untreated sewage were forcibly discharged into one of the most renowned lakes in England.

In February, United Utilities underestimated the extent of the unlawful pollution in Windermere, Lake District, by ten hours before notifying the Environment Agency thirteen hours after the incident had begun.

In 2022, a nearly identical incident transpired at the same site.

As of February, the company claims it took immediate action to resolve the incident.

Sewage is typically discharged from a pumping station located in Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, to the Windermere Wastewater Treatment Works.

However, documents from United Utilities reveal that the primary pumps stopped working on the evening of February 28 due to a telecommunications error.

Following this, untreated effluent was released by a distinct set of emergency pumps into the central area of Windermere, which is situated within a Unesco World Heritage site.

It is the largest lake in England and a prominent natural attraction.

Documents indicate intermittent sewage discharge from the pipes into the lake began at 23:34 GMT and continued until 09:49 GMT the following day.

It is permissible for the pumping station to release untreated effluent into Windermere when it is entirely operational and inundated with precipitation or snowmelt. In contrast, this incident involved the unlawful discharge of effluent into the lake.

According to United Utilities insiders, during six hours of emergency pump operation at nearly 500 liters per second, over ten million liters of raw effluent were dumped into the lake’s center.

According to the company, United Utilities was not notified of an unanticipated fault in the area’s telecommunications network, which precipitated the incident.

In recent summers, algal outbreaks have occurred in Windermere, causing the water to become green and potentially toxic. Phosphorus accumulation in the lake causes the algae, which is exacerbated in part by treated and untreated effluent.

According to the evidence gathered during the pollution incident in February, United Utilities should have implemented prompt and suitable measures to restrict the discharge of untreated pollution.

According to water company insiders, the organization would have been notified of the malfunction shortly after. They said that if an out-of-hours team had been dispatched to the site immediately, most of the contamination could have been avoided.

Conversely, a decade later, an engineer was dispatched to the pumping station and promptly halted the emissions.

It is highly probable that the water company knew that a telecommunications malfunction at the pumping station would result in waste discharge into the lake.

Utilities claim that the dispatch of standby squads is determined using a risk-based prioritization procedure. According to a spokesperson, our engineers took immediate action to rectify the situation as soon as we realized this defect was impacting the Glebe Road pumping station.

Save Windermere, an organization that campaigns to eliminate sewage pollution, stated that sewage “continues to be the greatest threat to the largest lake in England.”

A recurring incident in Windermere involves the lake’s pollution by United Utilities, while the Environment Agency fails to take notice.

Such incidents involving equipment failures and pollution should be reported promptly to the EA so that they may evaluate the damage and conduct an investigation.

“Magnify the wrist”

The site’s environmental permit stipulates that failure to notify the agency promptly constitutes a criminal offense.

However, the EA received the call over 13 hours after the telecommunications error and the commencement of the pollution.

According to an EA insider, it is challenging to investigate contamination that is reported after the event.

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If these incidents are not reported promptly, we cannot collect evidence and observe the contamination; as a result, we are compelled to administer a slap on the wrist instead of the more severe punishments they likely merit.

United Utilities states that it could not corroborate the presence of a spill until 12:30 GMT and that the Environment Agency was notified of the incident “within an hour of the pollution being confirmed.”

Additionally, the corporation claims to have collected water samples from the vicinity of the site.

Theluent discharge had minimal, if any, on the lake. However, the samples were gathered on the lakeshore over four hours after the cessation of contamination rather than from the lake’s center, where the sewage was released.

The Environment Agency announced that it was implementing a new strategy to “discover noncompliance and motivate the water industry to deliver better performance” and bolster regulation and compliance checks.

However, released documents indicate that the EA should have investigated this incident comprehensively or contested the water company’s version of events.

In addition to testing the water along the lakeshore, the agency’s attending officer concluded that “no visual impact was found” (rather than from the point where the effluent had been discharged).

The environmental agency investigation could not ascertain the volume or duration of the sewage poured into Windermere.

Subsequently, the contamination was classified as a “minor” incident, and the sole enforcement measure implemented was issuing a routine “site warning” three weeks later.

The investigation seemed to have concluded, as enforcement actions of this nature typically signify the conclusion of the procedure.

“We are conducting a comprehensive investigation into the incident, which includes examining additional evidence from United Utilities,” stated a spokesperson.

The Environment Agency will pursue appropriate enforcement measures, including criminal prosecution, against any water company found to violate an environmental permit

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