The Environment Agency has opened an investigation into the cause of the “unscreened, untreated sewage” that was discharged into the sea from Foreness pumping station in the early hours of June 17 – resulting in the pollution being spread to 11 Thanet beaches and bays.
The incident, which Southern Water says was caused by a lightning strike during the overnight storm, meant advice against going into the sea or the area of beach below the high water mark remained in place for just over 6 days – finally being lifted on June 23.
A statement from the Environment Agency says: “We worked closely with Thanet District Council and Southern Water to advise on the clean up operation and supported Thanet council’s decision to remove warning signs on the morning of June 23. We also removed warnings from our SWIMFO website.
“Due to the time that had elapsed and the number of tidal cycles, by June 23, there was a notable reduction in risk. Following an extensive clean up operation and regular inspections around the coast, the advice for the public not to enter the sea or the area of beach below the high tide mark was lifted.
“We have launched an investigation into the cause of this incident.”
Routine samples were taken from Thanet beaches on June 23-24 and are still undergoing analysis. Results will be published on the SWIMFO website.
The release is one of dozens to have taken place over the last four years.
Former councillor Ian Driver today (June 25) revealed that documentation of releases on Southern Water’s website show 154 wastewater releases in Thanet during the three-year period 2017-20.
The majority were directly into the sea from the Broadstairs and Margate pumping stations.
He said: “The combined duration of these spillages was an astonishing 796 hours, or the equivalent of 17 days. But the volume of sewage discharged in this time is not recorded so we will never know just how much raw human waste entered the sea and rivers at Thanet.
“The number of raw sewage spillage incidents in Thanet is on the increase. In 2017 Southern Water recorded 23 incidents, in 2018 30, in 2019 41, and in 2020 60. That’s a 160% increase in just three years.”
Volunteers from the Friends of Botany Bay and Kingsgate say they are continuing to pick up sanitary towels and wet wipes that are being brought in on the tide and have questioned the decision to lift the advice against bathing without any water quality data.
Kingsgate Bay strewn with sanitary pads and wet wipes from sewage this aftetnoon. A volunteer was down there at 5pm picking them up. No sign of @SouthernWater. Again #Thanet #sewage @Ofwat. @cmackinlay @bbcsoutheast @IsleThanetNews pic.twitter.com/mzg6tYpA7T
— Friends of Botany Bay & Kingsgate CIC (@botany_of) June 25, 2021
Ian McAulay, Southern Water’s CEO, said: “This was an exceptional incident caused by a direct lightning strike. We are hugely grateful to Thanet District Council for their work with us. We have agreed to meet the costs the council has incurred as a result of the incident to ensure no additional pressure on the public purse.”
“No pollution is acceptable to our customers and it is not acceptable to Southern Water either. This was an exceptional and unfortunate event and while the incident is still under investigation, Southern Water had prepared well in advance of the predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms last week. We acted on the alarm within minutes of it being activated since we had already deployed standby crews preemptively to site.
“To protect local homes and businesses from internal flooding from the volume of rain, surface water and wastewater passing through the pumping station at that time meant we had no choice but to make an emergency release.”
He added: “We have invested significantly in making improvements to reduce the risk of future incidents occurring at Margate Pumping Station. We know the local community has been badly affected in the past and to reduce the risks we have invested £10m in the last decade. Another £5.5m will be invested in the site by 2025.”
Southern Water also said businesses can apply for compensation by emailing Barry.Woodham@southernwater.co.uk for details.
But Julian Newick from The Lifeboat Ale and Cider House in Margate says the information requested is “overzealous.”
In a response to his email regarding compensation he was asked to provide a list of information including:
Full trading name / legal entity
Date incorporated (if applicable)
Names of current Directors/business owners
Number of employees as at 16th June 2021
VAT Status (Registered/Not Registered)
The date of closure following the incident, if applicable, and date of re-opening
Details of the amount claimed
A copy of the most recent available annual accounts including prior year comparative figures
If readily available, a copy of the monthly management accounts for the period June 2019 to June 2021 (and beyond as they become available).
Details of weekly turnover for the period March 2021 to June 2021 and onwards as they become available and also for the same period in 2020.
If management accounts are not readily available, provide details of monthly turnover / sales for the period June 2019 to June 2021 (and beyond as they become available).
Provide a monthly breakdown of the following costs – Consumables, Utilities, Cleaning & Laundry, Employed Staff Costs (to include pension and NI costs etc.) and Agency Staff – Costs for the period June 2019 to June 2021 (and beyond as they become available).
Details of bookings taken/cancelled and any refunds provided
Mr Newick responded by saying the overzealous request for information needs simplifying and added: “We are a small business suffering in many ways. The sewage issue is yet another straw towards breaking the camel’s back.”