On 6th June 2016, Environment Agency officers were called to the Shenfield and Hutton water recycling centre, a sewage treatment works operated by Anglian Water, following an incident. It was found that all three pumps in one of the pump stations at the site had failed following a fire. As a result, raw sewage was flowing out of an emergency overflow.
Officers tracked the sewage into the River Wid, where they carried out tests and found high levels of ammonia in the cloudy, polluted water.
In the following days investigators returned and found dead fish along the river.
Around 10 kilometres of the River Wid experienced high levels of ammonia for three days. In total, at least 5,431 fish were found to have died during this time with invertebrates affected along 5km of the river.
It was later found that the bearing on one of the pumps had failed but continued to operate. While the cause of the fire is unknown, it was accepted that heat built up to cause the fire, which spread to other electrical components, stopping all three pumps from working. This left no way for the sewage to be pumped.
Further investigations found that the pumps were almost 40 years old. The bearings on another pump had failed in 2013, prompting Anglian Water to seek funding to replace them on the other two pumps. However, only two of the three pumps were ever refurbished; the one that failed was the one that had not been overhauled.
Repairs were carried out to the equipment following the incident.
Anglian Water appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates Court on 26th May 2022 and was fined £300,000. It had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in September 2021 to causing an unpermitted pollution discharge.
Environment manager at the Environment Agency, Andrew Raine, said: “The fine handed to Anglian Water shows polluters are made to pay for damaging the environment. The fish population in this area suffered significantly because of this sewage pollution and it took time for the local ecosystem to recover.
“The public demand tough action when it comes to water quality and we are delivering. Anyone caught breaching environmental laws faces enforcement action, up to and including prosecution. We will always ensure the courts have all the information they need to impose appropriate sentences.”