Northern Ireland Water fined £80,000 over three major pollutions incidents

Date published: 19 September 2018

Northern Ireland Water was today fined a total of £80,000 at Downpatrick Crown Court for three serious water pollution offences including an incident which caused a major ‘fish kill’ in Co Down.

The fines were handed down after Northern Ireland Water Limited (NIWL) entered early guilty pleas on 21 June. The company agreed to pay almost £13,000 in fishery remediation costs.

The sentences were linked to three pollution incidents. The first fine was in respect of a discharge from Annsborough Wastewater Treatment Works (WwTW) in October 2016 which caused a major ‘fish kill’ in the Carrigs River, Co Down. Two fines were also imposed regarding incidents in January and March 2017 where the Blackwater River in Co Down was polluted.

On 8 October 2016, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) investigated a report of fish mortalities in the lower reaches of the Carrigs River near Dundrum, Co Down. From the joint investigation with DAERA Inland Fisheries staff, the source of pollution was traced to Annsborough WwTW which is owned and operated by NIWL. As a consequence of this pollution incident, a major ‘fish kill’ occurred with a total of 1,928 fish mortalities counted including 23 salmon and 1,905 trout. Given the difficulties confirming accurate mortality counts, these figures represent the minimum recordable loss of fish life associated with this incident. The waterway was impacted by the discharge from the works for over 6Km.

A report, carried out by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), on the impact on the Carrigs River fishery was presented to the court. It stated: “The 2016 spawning stock of mature anadromous salmonids was severely impacted, this may reduce fry recruitment success in the Carrigs River in 2017 and consequential adult returns in subsequent years.”         

Further to the investigation, a sample taken of a white material, later identified as a polyelectrolyte, at the outfall from Annsborough WwTW was shown by analysis to have had a very high chemical oxygen demand along with elevated levels of aluminium, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, lead and zinc indicating that the sample taken contained poisonous, noxious or polluting matter which would have been harmful to fish life.

NIWL was fined £20,000 in respect of this incident and agreed to pay £12,718.36 in remediation costs to NIEA to facilitate fishery improvement works on the Carrigs River.

The other two water pollution incidents related to breaches of the Water (NI) Order 1999 Consent held by NIWL in respect of Killinchy WwTW in Co Down.

On 25 January 2017, NIEA Water Quality Inspectors investigated a report of water pollution impacting the River Blackwater at Killinchy where they observed the river to be significantly impacted by sewage fungus. The Inspectors found that the final treated effluent discharging from the works was of visibly poor quality. Consequently, a sample of the discharge was collected which was found to contain poisonous, noxious or polluting matter which would have been harmful to fish life in the receiving waterway.

On 30 March 2017, NIEA Water Quality Inspectors carried out a routine assessment of the water quality in the Blackwater River at Ballymartin Road, Killinchy and discovered the river bed was impacted by an extensive growth of sewage fungus over a 1.5km reach.  The impact on the river was traced upstream to the discharge from Killinchy WwTW.  As in January, a sample of the discharge from the works was collected. Again from analysis, the sample taken was found to contain poisonous, noxious or polluting matter which would have been harmful to fish life.

Under the Water (NI) Order 1999, NIWL is permitted to make discharges under certain conditions in respect of Killinchy WwTW.  However, the court found that NIWL had breached the conditions of that consent in both January and March 2017 and it imposed fines of £30,000 for each incident. 

An NIEA spokesperson said: “The fines handed down today send out a clear message that the polluters of our rivers, Iakes and marine environment will be dealt with rigorously. The incidents for which these fines were imposed today were serious in nature and NIEA responded with necessary and proportionate enforcement action.

“Good water quality is a priority for NIEA and we will continue to work closely with NIWL and others to examine the causes of such pollution incidents in order to minimise the risk of recurrence. Through working with NIWL, the average number of significant water pollution incidents attributed to them in the last three years is 63% below the level recorded in its first three years of operation, 2007 - 2009. Whilst these were very serious incidents, NIEA acknowledges the swift pro-active actions taken by NIWL following them.”

NIWL were also directed to pay an Offenders Levy of £15 regarding each case.

Anyone wishing to report a pollution incident can call the 24 hour Water Pollution Hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Northern Ireland Water Limited (NIWL) was fined £20,000 and charged under Article 7(1)(a) of the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 with the offence of making a polluting discharge to a waterway in respect of Annsborough WwTW.
  2. NIWL agreed to pay £12,718.36 in compensation to the Agency for the fish killed during this incident.
  3. NIWL was fined £30,000 (January) and £30,000 (March) for offences under Article 7(6) of the Water Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 with the offence of breaching the terms of a discharge consent issued by the Department in respect of Killinchy WwTW.
  4. The Article 7(1)(a) Offences for 25 January 2017 and  30 March 2017 were ‘left on the books’.
  5. Salmon and sea trout are anadromous fish, which means that they are born in fresh water, spend most of their lives at sea and return to fresh water to spawn.
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