Sewage 'nuisance' complaint made against water firm

A United Utilities overflow pipe near a jetty on the banks of Windermere.
The statutory nusiance complaint against United Utilities is alleged to be a legal first [Reuters]

A council has been asked to investigate sewage discharges into Windermere, with campaigners claiming it constitutes a "nuisance" under environmental laws.

Save Windermere filed a complaint against United Utilities to Westmorland and Furness Council, alleging dozens of sewage discharges had caused a "statutory nuisance".

United Utilities responded that it had invested £75m upgrading treatment sites and infrastructure around Windermere and more work was planned to halve sewage spills.

The council said it had received an "allegation of statutory nuisance regarding discharges into Windermere" and was considering its response.

Campaigners said the complaint was the first of its kind in the UK against a water company.

Save Windermere alleged more than 100 incidences of sewage being discharged into and around the river Rothay in Ambleside over a 13-month period amounted to a statutory nuisance.

It said the discharges were in addition to data which alleged there were at least 234 days with illegal early spills of untreated sewage by United Utilities into Windermere and the surrounding catchment between 2018 and 2022 – including 75 days where illegal spilling occurred at Ambleside Wastewater Treatment Works.

Campaigners pointed to Section 79(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which said that a statutory nuisance could occur from "accumulations or deposits", which would stand due to the accumulations of suspended solids in untreated sewage, Save Windermere said.

United Utilities said it had invested £75m upgrading wastewater treatment sites, pumping stations and sewers around Windermere over the last two decades.

"Total phosphorus in Windermere has reduced by 30% as a direct result of that investment," a spokesperson said.

"We have already started work on a further £41m of investment into the Windermere catchment between now and 2030 to reduce storm overflow operation at Elterwater, Hawkshead, Ambleside and Near Sawrey.

"This will reduce spills by 50% on 2022 figures and is expected to reduce total phosphorus by a further 4% and 8% in the two basins of Windermere."

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