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United Utilities Pay Out £500k After Polluting River Douglas

United Utilities have paid out more than half a million pounds - after it polluted the River Douglas - killing hundreds of fish.

The company has completed an Enforcement Undertaking following a pollution incident where spill of acidic ferric salt solution from Rivington Water Treatment Works caused a significant fish kill in the River Douglas at Horwich.

United Utilities offered the Enforcement Undertaking in response to the incident which was investigated by the Environment Agency in September 2016.

Environment Agency officers investigating found the River Douglas, which flows out of Rivington Reservoir, to be very acidic (a very low pH) which had impacted the river, turned it an orange colour, and caused a significant number of brown trout to be killed. It was discovered that ferric solution had been by-passing a faulty valve in the water treatment works, which had discharged into a drain and entered the river.

The water company cooperated with the Environment Agency’s investigation, admitted the offence, implemented works to try to prevent the pollution continuing and carried out improvements to prevent a recurrence.

The Environment Agency accepted the offer which included a payment of £500,000 to the Douglas Catchment Partnership, led by the environmental charity Groundworks, for the building of fish passages or bypass streams, within the River Douglas catchment and further pro bono support to the project, which will directly benefit the local environment.

United Utilities have also spent £88,498 on actions to prevent a recurrence of the incident, which included improvements to the chemical delivery area, tank cleaning and maintenance and valve replacement. They also paid £13,521 in Environment Agency costs.

Jennifer Hall, Land and Water Team Leader at the Environment Agency, said: “Environment Agency staff respond to pollution incidents 24/7 to contain pollution and protect water quality. We investigate pollution incidents to find the source, stop the problem and understand how best to reduce any impacts on local communities and the environment. We take tough action against any company or individual who causes significant pollution and damage to the environment.

“We urge anyone who notices pollution to land or water to call our 24 hour free hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

“Over the course of the past year the number of serious and significant pollution incidents reduced to their lowest levels since 2011 but there are still far too many serious pollution incidents which damage the local environment, threaten wildlife and, in the worst cases, put the public at risk.”

Sara Clowes, the River Douglas Catchment Host, Groundwork Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside, said: “The River Douglas Catchment Partnership are working collaboratively with a core group of dedicated environmental organisations and local landowners to develop a robust long term fisheries strategy to improve fish passage, wildlife habitat and raise public awareness about how we can all play a role in safeguarding the health of our waterways into the future.”

Enforcement Undertakings address both the cause and effect of the offending. Polluters can make an offer to the Environment Agency to pay for or carry out environmental improvements as an alternative to any other enforcement action and the Environment Agency decides whether this is acceptable. Enforcement Undertakings differ to cases which are dealt with in court, as they result in money being spent directly protecting, restoring and improving the environment.  

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