More on the South West Water “just add lemon” fine

Total Costs tot up to £300,000

From the Western Morning News

South West Water has been ordered to pay almost £300,000 in fines and costs for supplying unfit drinking water in Devon.

The Exeter-based company admitted one in charge in a prosecution brought by the Drinking Water Inspectorate.

South West Water apologised for what it described as an “isolated incident” in 2018 and said it was caused by a naturally occurring algal bloom on Exmoor’s Wistlandpound reservoir, in part due to a hot and dry summer.

The regulator told the court that between June 19 and August 21, 2018, South West Water supplied water that was “unfit for human consumption” at Bratton Fleming and Horedown, near Barnstaple.

Customers at the time reported that the water was discoloured and had an “earthy” or “mouldy” taste. South West Water said it was not harmful to health and told people to chill the water in the fridge or add a slice of lemon to improve the taste.

The company admitted the offence and was fined £233,333 at Plymouth Magistrate’s Court last Tuesday. It was also ordered to pay a victim services surcharge of £170, and costs of £60,320.73, bringing the total penalty to £293,823.73.

A spokesperson for South West Water said after the hearing: “We deeply apologise to our customers affected by this incident in 2018, which was caused by an algal bloom on the reservoir. We accept that unpalatable water, even when safe to drink, is absolutely unacceptable, and this was reflected in our guilty plea at the earliest opportunity. Since then, we have made a number of major investments of up to £1 million to the site to reduce the risks of such events occurring again.”

The company said the problem had not happened again due to the action it took afterwards. The issue was caused by what it called “naturally occurring scientific compounds [algal bloom]” at “unprecedented levels”, caused in part by “an unusually dry and hot summer”.

The water from the reservoir made it through to the local water treatment works and eventually to drinking water supplies. South West Water says it did not impact the safety of the water, but affected the taste and smell which led to customer complaints and an investigation by the Drinking Waters Inspectorate.

The company says that, since 2018, it has made “major interventions and investments in the site”, costing up to £1 million. The measures include installing a large reservoir mixing system in 2019, which it says helps to maintain water quality by keeping the water fully mixed and easier to treat.

The company says it continues to review its drinking water safety plans continuously to assess new risks and to prioritise investment.

The Wistlandpound reservoir has a capacity of 1,550 megalitres and water is taken for treatment to supply customers in Devon, including Ilfracombe and Barnstaple.

The Environment Agency downgraded the company to the lowest rating of one star for its environmental performance in July. Water companies have come under fire from campaigners over water quality in the rivers and seas, including the level of storm overflows of untreated sewage which are legally allowed to prevent flooding after exceptionally heavy downpours.