A Margate councillor has become a formal witness in an Environment Agency investigation into Southern Water releases of untreated sewage’ in Thanet last year.
The investigation follows two incidents, the first was a release of wastewater from the emergency outfall at Foreness Point in June 2021 which affected ten isle beaches. Southern Water said the release was due to a lightning strike at the wastewater pumping station.
The second was a failure at the Broadstairs pumping station in October 2021 resulting in advice against bathing or entering the area below the high water mark at 14 of Thanet’s beaches following an unscreened wastewater release.
The investigation being carried out by the Environment Agency includes the signing up of Margate councillor Rob Yates as a formal witness in any proceedings.
Cllr Yates has submitted Freedom of Information requests about operations at Southern Water’s Thanet facilities and been involved with demonstrations held last year.
He said: “As a Thanet District Councillor and resident of Margate I am pleased to be supporting the Environment Agency in their investigations into Southern Water here in Thanet.
“In 2021 I submitted an Environmental Information Request with Southern Water about the performance of their operations locally. In their response they admitted to having 23 non-compliant storm event releases happening at Margate Wastewater Pumping Station since 2019. This could have led to serious impacts across Thanet.
“This information, along with witness testimony from residents in Thanet, has now been formally submitted to help the Environment Agency with their investigations.
“That is all I can say at this time.”
An Environment Agency spokesperson confirmed the investigation is ongoing and, on completion, a decision will be made about what further action should be taken.
The spokesperson added: “The Environment Agency is continuing to investigate the release of untreated sewage in the Margate area during 2021, including on 17 June and 5 October.
“Once we have completed our investigations, we will decide on what further action is appropriate.
“As this is an ongoing investigation, we can’t comment any further at this time.
“We take our responsibility to protect the environment very seriously. Water companies have a legal duty, to avoid pollution and must act quickly to reduce any damage that happens as a result of their activities.
“We encourage the public to report pollution incidents to us via our 24-hour Freephone emergency number 0800 80 70 60.”
In April this year a public meeting in Ramsgate heard pledges from Southern Water chiefs of real time monitoring of bacteria in our coastal waters, a £300million investment in Kent and a Southern Water stakeholder group for Thanet.
Some 120 people attended the gathering at Royal Harbour Academy so that they could put their questions to then- Southern Water CEO Ian McAulay and Dr Toby Wilson, the water company’s chief of environment and sustainability.
The panel included Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee, county councillor Karen Constantine, Sally Harvey from the Environment Agency and was chaired by South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay.
Campaigners from SOS Ramsgate, who had been pushing for the meeting since last year, were among those attending.
In July of this year a Southern Water report included proposals to cut storm releases into the sea off Margate.
Southern Water’s Storm Overflow Task Force said the Margate Pathfinder report was the first step of a collaboration between residents, councils, and community groups to improve drainage, manage wastewater flows, and significantly reduce the use of storm overflows in the area.
Southern Water is now working alongside Kent County Council, Thanet District Council, and residents to improve drainage in the area and drive down the use of storm overflows.
The types of intervention identified in the report are a mix of innovative and traditional solutions such as removing and slowing the flow of rainwater in the network, making better use of the existing infrastructure, removing impermeable surfaces, creating sustainable drainage in parks, diverting rainwater to the environment, and investing in new assets.
Southern Water has also undertaken flow and manholes surveys. This information will be used to improve the network model for the Margate area.
There is also a programme to install some 300 level monitors in the Margate catchment. This will also give more ‘real-time’ data of water levels in the sewers.