Water firm faces fine after sewage spills into harbour

20/2/12 PM''Eastney sewage outfall, close to the pier''Picture: Paul Jacobs (110641-7)
20/2/12 PM''Eastney sewage outfall, close to the pier''Picture: Paul Jacobs (110641-7)

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SOUTHERN Water could face prosecution after allowing raw sewage to spill into a beauty spot.

The firm has pumped large amounts of polluting sewage into Langstone Harbour since August 27 last year.

The spillages, which are deemed pollution incidents and are under investigation by the Environment Agency, have caused grave concerns for the scientists who look after the harbour.

The spillages have happened at least 11 times and sometimes for up to two days.

They have come from Southern Water’s pumping station at Fort Cumberland, Eastney.

Nearly all of Portsmouth’s sewage is pumped from Eastney to Budd’s Farm, in Havant, where it is treated and then pumped miles out to sea through a pipe under the harbour.

But, whenever there is a large amount of rainfall and the pumps cannot cope, some of the sewage has to be emitted into the harbour through a pipe at Fort Cumberland. Normally this is screened to make sure large sewage items do not get into the harbour.

But since August 27, the screening system at Fort Cumberland has stopped working after being damaged during a large storm.

It means whenever there is higher than average rainfall, the harbour is being polluted.

The harbour, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, is home to 50,000 birds and a population of seals and has international wildlife status.

Louise MacCallum, environment officer for Langstone Harbour Board, said: ‘Having untreated sewage in what is effectively a nature reserve is not a good thing. They should have got it fixed sooner.’

David Willetts, MP for Havant and Hayling Island, said: ‘Langstone Harbour, Chichester Harbour and the Solent are precious natural habitats. They are places where swimmers and windsurfers enjoy. It’s shocking if raw sewage has got into the sea.

‘I could understand if occasionally there is a technical problem. But 11 occasions is way beyond acceptable. If the screening system was broken, it should have been fixed. It shouldn’t have taken six months.’

Under government rules, Southern Water does not have permission to let unscreened sewage enter the harbour and could be fined.

A statement from the Environment Agency said: ‘The Environment Agency’s investigation into the issues at Langstone Harbour is ongoing, and we hope to conclude this shortly.

‘We are working with all parties involved to ensure that all aspects of the incident are properly examined.’

Southern Water said it fixed the Fort Cumberland problems last week.

Leilah Nicola said: ‘We have invested £100,000 to improve our site at Fort Cumberland. The work was necessary following an exceptional storm in August 2010, which damaged the site.

‘Screens have been enhanced and control systems replaced at the site, which remained operational throughout the work.

‘The investment will ensure the Fort Cumberland outlet provides a greater level of protection to Portsmouth and the environment.’

Pressed on why it took six months to fix the problem, she added: ‘We started this almost immediately after the storm and it was completed to schedule. Schemes such as this are complex and highly technical and cannot be completed overnight.’