NI Water fined £80,000 for polluting Co Down rivers

NIW director Sean McAleese (left) and solicitor John Burke leave Downpatrick Crown Court after the verdict
NIW director Sean McAleese (left) and solicitor John Burke leave Downpatrick Crown Court after the verdict

NI Water has been handed fines totalling £80,000 after they admitted polluting two rivers in Co Down.

At Downpatrick Crown Court, Judge Piers Grant fined NIW £20,000 over an incident in October 2016 when chemicals were washed into a river close to Newcastle, killing “a minimum” of almost 2,000 fish.

The judge also handed out two fines of £30,000 for further incidents in January and March 2017 when staff from the NI Environment Agency (NIEA) spotted “sewage fungus” at the same discharge pipe near Killinchy which demonstrated “significant pollution”.

The judge said that while it was to the credit of NIW that they had earlier pleaded guilty to each of the three offences and had taken significant remedial work to prevent any further incidents, “regrettably and unfortunately the defendant company have a number of previous convictions of a similar type” stretching back to 2009.

Taking the incidents in chronological order, the judge said when officials from NIEA investigated a major fish kill in the Carrigs River, they traced it back to a waste water treatment premises owned by NIW.

Samples taken from the river, which was affected over a four-and-a-half-mile stretch, indicated the presence of chemicals which were harmful to fish life, said the judge, adding that while the carcasses of 1,905 trout and 23 salmon were recovered from the river, “clearly that’s the minimum loss of life because it’s almost impossible, in these circumstances, to trace every carcass and every fish killed”.

NIEA investigations uncovered the pollutant materials had got into the river when a chemical spillage at the treatment plant had been power-hosed away.

It was also found the original spillage had been caused by material “deteriorating over a period of time,” deterioration which ought to have been spotted by NIW.

Turning to the second indictment, Judge Grant described how an off-duty NIEA official spotted “coloured discharge” in the Blackwater River near Killinchy and reported the matter.

“Emergency measures were taken” and investigators noted a “foul smell” with a significant amount of “sewage fungus”, with samples taken indicating that there were materials which would be harmful to fish life.

Judge Grant told the court the growth of the sewage fungus was a significant factor because “that indicates that it has been present for some time as it is not something that occurs spontaneously overnight”.

“Two months later it occurred again,” said the judge, “again the fungus was present and it was significantly visible.”

NIW had previously been fined £40,000 in Londonderry Crown Court for other offences.

An NIEA spokesperson said: “The fines handed down today send out a clear message that the polluters of our rivers, lakes and marine environment will be dealt with rigorously.”