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 Water company prosecuted for licence breach

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David Harvey

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PostSubject: Water company prosecuted for licence breach   Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:57 am

28-Oct-2011

Local water company prosecuted for breaches of abstraction licence

The Environment Agency has prosecuted (27 October) United Utilities Water Plc for 4 offences of failing to comply with the requirements of an abstraction licence.

The company pleaded guilty to all charges at West Allerdale Magistrates Court and was fined £32,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,703.28

The Court heard that United Utilities has a licence authorising it to take water from Crummock Water, West Cumbria, which is used to provide drinking water for the Cockermouth and Workington area. A requirement of this licence is that the company must discharge a uniform and continuous flow of water into the River Cocker downstream of its abstraction. This is intended to ensure that at all times the flow of water and river level is maintained to avoid harm in an environmentally sensitive location; the river is part of the River Derwent Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation.

On four occasions in June and July 2010, United Utilities failed to meet this requirement and the river level dropped. Although there was no evidence of harm, the offences occurred during the 2010 drought and the reduction in flow had the potential to place the river ecology under additional stress. At the time the company was trying to maximise the amount of water in the lake by controlling the discharge to the river close to the statutory requirement and reduce the likelihood of applying for a drought permit. However the company did not have an adequate system in place to monitor the flow effectively and also failed to respond to calls made by the Environment Agency’s Incident Communications Service advising of low river level alarms and the need to increase the discharge to the river.

In mitigation, United Utilities stated that on three of the four occasions, they had sent the required volume of water into the River Cocker, albeit not in a uniform and continuous flow. In sentencing, the court acknowledge that no environmental damage had been caused.

Speaking after the court case, Bill Darbyshire, North West Drought Manager, said, “Water is a precious resource and the Environment Agency plays a key role in ensuring that public water supplies and other essential uses of water are maintained without impact on the water environment. United Utilities failure to ensure the river flow was maintained in the Cocker could have had a serious impact on aquatic life. We seek to balance the needs of people and the environment through abstraction licence controls.. We also have drought plans for every region in England and Wales that set out how we manage access to water and the environment under drought conditions and we work with water companies to support the development and implementation of their own drought plans.”

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