Southern Water has agreed to commission a full drainage survey of Margate and the surrounding areas in order to improve resilience of Foreness Point pumping station. The survey, estimated to come at a cost of some £400,000, will record all of the water pathways that contribute surface water and rain water to the drainage system. It will also assess the amount of water which is added to the system during storm periods.
The aim is to reduce runoff reaching the treatment works and reduce the risk of emergency spills.
The update was given by Southern Water chief executive Ian McAulay, at a briefing for Thanet councillors held tonight (September 13).
This was in response to a number of waste release incidents including “unscreened, untreated sewage” being 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 resulting in a power outage during an 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.
During the meeting it was also agreed to implement a number of action points previously drawn up during a meeting between Margate councillor Rob Yates, representatives of natural beauty business Haeckels and Walpole Bay Swimmers and Environment Agency senior officer Peter Ehmann.
Cllr Yates said there will now be a bathing water task force with the first meeting planned for November 3 and he revealed the Environment Agency is planning to test water quality in the Walpole Bay tidal pool directly for next year, rather than tests being carried out further to the west.
The meeting was also told that Southern Water has paid the combined Rotary in Thanet for an innovative installation to collect plastic waste and given donations to volunteer groups Friends of Botany Bay and Rise Up Clean Up for their help with litter picking.
The water company, which Macquarie Asset Management bought a majority stake in last month, has paid £100,000 compensation to Thanet council and paid £16,000 to 16 of the 36 Thanet businesses who submitted claims for impact on trade after the sewage release in June. A number of other businesses also have claims for compensation being assessed currently.
Cllr Yates, who is a keen sea swimmer, said: “Two key questions were asked tonight. The first was by Cllr Mike Garner, he asked how long will we have to wait until we get an upgrade to the Foreness pumping station, given we are already having serious sewage issues and the 17,000 new houses planned by the Conservative government in Thanet.
“This was not answered, but Southern Water have commissioned a full drainage survey which should guide that answer.
“The second question (which I asked) was whether Southern Water is currently achieving the permitted pumping levels of 809 litres per second at Margate pumping station. This to my knowledge is a legal requirement and if they cannot pump at this speed then Southern Water can/will be fined. High pumping speeds are needed to pump the sewage to the treatment centre and therefore reduce the backlog of sewage at the pumping station. This reduces the likelihood of CSO sewage discharge. This question could not be answered either although a response is expected in a week’s time.
“One small positive is that Southern Water confirmed that the bathing water working group, or task force, is now back up and running with the first meeting planned in November.
“I hope that Thanet council plays a strong role in this group to ensure that Southern Water is both complying with existing legal requirements and planning an upgrade to the station. The people of Thanet need answers.”
Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee, who wrote a scathing letter to Southern Water bosses following the spill in June, said: ““Following the lightning strike at Southern Water’s wastewater pumping station at Foreness Point on Wednesday 16 June, I wrote to and met with the Chief Executive and Senior Directors to understand exactly what happened and what mitigation measures can be put in place to ensure the district is not exposed to that risk again.
“I understand the strength of feeling on this matter and am aware that many residents and businesses in Thanet are looking for the company to be held to account.
“This evening, the Chief Executive of Southern Water, Ian McAulay, and the Director of Environment & Corporate Affairs Dr Toby Willison, provided elected members with a further update following the incident and answered their questions.
“In addition to funds already offered to local businesses in compensation for loss of business, Southern Water has agreed to commission a full drainage survey of Margate and the surrounding areas in order to improve the long term resilience of Foreness Point.
“This survey will establish and record all of the water pathways that contribute surface water and rain water to the combined drainage system. It will also assess the amount of water which is added to the system during storm periods. The aim is to reduce runoff reaching the treatment works and therefore substantially reduce the risk of emergency spills. Southern Water estimates that this survey will cost in the region of £400,000.
“I will continue to seek assurances that Southern Water’s investment plan in Thanet is sufficient to ensure resilience in the area. I want the priorities of Thanet residents and businesses to be both heard and understood and in turn know that the company has a plan that addresses their concerns.
“Furthermore, by working closely with our MPs and using our collective powers and influence, I will continue to scrutinise Southern Water to ensure they deliver on their commitments.”
Councillors have been invited to tour the Foreness pumping station on October 1.
Ian McAulay, Southern Water’s CEO, said: “We are pleased our offer to support the local community, local businesses and the environment has been accepted by Thanet District Council and that councillors fed back positively about our discussions. We recognise the expectations and opinions of society have significantly changed in recent years and that the emergency process, which is integral to the current system to protect homes and businesses from flooding, is one people feel very strongly about.
“This drainage survey signals the start of a closer working relationships which will benefit our customers, the environment and the local economy.”
The Environment Agency is investigating a further waste release from Foreness on June 27.
In July Southern Water was fined a record £90million for illegally dumping raw sewage into the sea.
During a sentencing hearing at Canterbury Crown Court, it was heard the water company pumped an estimated 16bn to 21bn litres of untreated sewage into protected waters around the south coast.
Southern Water faced 51 sewage pollution charges which took place between 2010 and 2015.
The case was said to be the biggest ever brought by the Environment Agency after sewage was released across the south coast from 16 Wastewater treatment works and one sewer overflow.
Also in July an Environment Agency report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies concluded Southern Water requires improvement with pollution incidents “consistently unacceptable.”
Since 2011 the EA has used the Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA), which rates each company in England from 1 star to 4 star, for performance on environmental commitments such as pollution incidents and treatment work compliance. Where these commitments are not achieved, companies will face underperformance penalties, with Ofwat having new powers to levy fines from 2020.
Southern Water and South West Water were rated as 2 star (requiring improvement).