Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Company pumps ‘millions of litres’ of raw sewage into Lake Windermere

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Millions of litres of untreated sewage was illegally discharged into Lake Windermere, according to a report, which only adds to concerns about the levels of pollution in British waters.

Raw sewage was pumped into the lake for nearly 10 hours in February after a telecommunication failure at a pumping station operated by United Utilities, a major water and wastewater services provider in the North West.

The discharge happened at the company’s pumping station at Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria on the night of 28 February and intermittently the following day.

The emergency pumps discharged more than 10 million litres of raw sewage into the lake after the main pumps abruptly stopped due to a telecom fault, insiders at the firm told BBC News, whose report also cited internal documents from the company.

Windermere, a Unesco world heritage site, is one of the country’s most popular natural attractions.

The incident was not reported to the Environment Agency until around 13 hours later. Failure to promptly notify the agency about such an incident constitutes a criminal offence.

United Utilities said in a statement to The Independent that it took “urgent steps to resolve the issue” and said it informed the Environment Agency within an hour after pollution of the lake was confirmed.

Windermere is one of the UK’s most popular natural tourist attractions (PA)

“This incident was caused by an unexpected fault on the third-party telecoms cable network in the area, which United Utilities was not notified about and which affected both the primary system and United Utilities’ backup,” the company said.

“As soon as we discovered this fault was affecting the Glebe Road pumping station, our engineers took urgent steps to resolve the situation and we informed the Environment Agency within an hour of the pollution being confirmed.”

The company told the BBC that the scale of the discharge was not recorded and described the broadcaster’s estimate as “unreliable”.

A similar incident occurred at the pumping station in 2022.

The latest incident comes amid warnings from environmental agencies that swimming and other activities in and around some of the country’s rivers and lakes could be hazardous due to high levels of sewage pollution.

Windermere is a Unesco World heritage site (PA Archive)

There were 68,481 incidents of sewage released into England’s seas last year, totalling 440,446 hours, campaign group Friends of the Earth said on Wednesday after analysing Environment Agency data.

In a statement to The Independent, the Environment Agency said an officer “attended the scene to confirm with UU [United Utilities] that the discharge had ceased and to carry out water sampling in areas affected”.

“We are undertaking a thorough investigation into the incident which involves examining further evidence from United Utilities,” it added.

“If we determine a permit breach has taken place, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action. If any water company is found to be in breach of an environmental permit, the Environment Agency will take the appropriate enforcement action up to and including a criminal prosecution.”

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