A meeting with the incoming chief executive of Southern Water is being requested by Ramsgate SOS campaigners and County Councillor Karen Constantine after another combined sewer outfall release into Thanet waters on Wednesday (June 8) and a failure of the water firm’s Beachbuoy website to update information for some 24 to 36 hours.
The sewer release was made at Ramsgate’s Western Undercliff for a 20 minute period after a short but heavy burst of rain.
Downpours cause rainwater to enter the sewer system in addition to wastewater from homes and businesses. If it arrives at the pumping station too quickly for it to be treated it is stored in tanks but if these also fill up screened wastewater is released into the sea.
The Beachbuoy site is meant to give near realtime details about discharges into the sea but Southern Water say a technical issue caused this to fail.
A spokesperson said: “There was a release made via our Military Road storm overflow on 8 June after a significant amount of rainfall (8mm) was recorded in a small area in a very short period of time (30 minutes).
“Stormwater flow, made up of mainly rainwater, was released for a 20-minute period to prevent internal and external flooding to properties in the area. Unfortunately, a technical issue affecting the automated reporting system meant this was not updated to our Beachbuoy website until 24 hours later. We have investigated this, identified the cause, and fixed the issue.”
Alerts were also flagged up for Ramsgate main sands and Viking Bay
Cllr Karen Constantine said: “Not content with discharging raw sewerage into Thanet waters, Southern Water have accomplished something I didn’t think was possible. They have made a very bad situation much, much worse.
“How? By failing to update the lifebuoy app for more than 36 hours – possible longer. Also by failing to answer questions openly. As a result local swimmers and other beach and sea users have been exposed to swimming in faecal contaminated waters.”
Cllr Constantine says local community groups must now be issued with testing kits for isle waters.
Southern Water has bought 4 testing kits, costing around £50,000 each. Two of these have gone to Canterbury and Havant councils. The water firm says work is taking place to find the best way of using kits so the majority of Thanet beaches can be tested. Training on use and recording data is also needed.
The pledge to consider providing testing kits was made by outgoing Southern Water chief exec Ian McAulay at a public meeting in Ramsgate in April.
However, his role will now be taken over by Lawrence Gosden (pictured) with effect from July 1.
Lawrence returned to Southern Water in 2020 as Chief Operating Officer. He previously spent 12 years at Thames Water.
Cllr Constantine said: “I sincerely hope that the incoming Chief Executive Lawrence Gosden is on performance related pay with sizeable deductions each and every time Southern Water discharge into our seas.”
Wastewater releases shut a large number of the isle’s beaches in June and October last year. Those incidents prompted a number of public protest rallies.
Last June advice was issued against swimming at 11 Thanet beaches after a wastewater release from the Foreness pumping station. There had also been numerous combined sewer outflows affecting water quality.
In October warnings were issued for 14 beaches and bays and stayed in place for nine days at 13 sites and an extra two days at Joss Bay following a discharge from the Broadstairs pumping station.
In September Southern Water 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.
In November Southern Water said it was launching a task force with the aim to cut storm overflows by 80 per cent by 2030.
Last year an Environment Agency report concluded Southern Water requires improvement with pollution incidents “consistently unacceptable.”
The results came a week after Southern Water was sentenced to pay a record-breaking £90m fine after pleading guilty in court to 6971 unpermitted pollution discharges from 16 Wastewater treatment works and one sewer overflow between 2010-2015.