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Fish Legal Settles Sewage Pollution Case on River Grom

18.09.09

Fish Legal is delighted to have secured a £17,500 settlement for its member club, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Angling Society, as a result of a civil claim mounted on behalf of the anglers following the pollution of the River Grom in June 2006.

A series of equipment failures at the Tunbridge Wells sewage treatment works saw partially treated sewage pumped into the Grom over a 6 day period with a devastating effect on the river and its ecology. There was an extensive fish kill during the incident and water quality on the upper Medway was seriously affected for approximately 14km downstream of the confluence with the Grom.

Electro-fishing surveys carried out by the Environment Agency post pollution in July 2006 returned just 1 immature chub on the Grom. A year later, sampling carried out in August 2007 on the Medway upstream and downstream of the confluence with the Grom found average fish species richness for a river of type upstream, but severely impoverished populations downstream of the confluence, with a complete absence of grayling, trout and chub and only 1/7th of the expected fishery biomass.

The first problems with the sewage treatment process at the works began on the 17th June 2006. Southern Water however failed to inform the Environment Agency that the works were malfunctioning and the situation only came to the attention of the Agency on the 18th June when a member of the public phoned through reports of dead fish and pungent, cloudy waters on the Grom. The time delay meant that Agency staff were unable to respond swiftly with aeration equipment to boost oxygen levels in the river and avoid the worst effects of the pollution.

The damage of the river was compounded when back-up equipment brought in by Southern Water to help rectify the situation also broke down and it was not until 22nd June that the treatment works to be returned to full operation

Fish Legal solicitor, Guy Linley-Adams, explained:

“The Grom, which is a relatively small tributary of the River Medway, was still recovering after a similar, serious pollution incident from the Tunbridge Wells works in 1989.

We were particularly disappointed that Southern Water did not respond quickly and appropriately to mitigate the environmental impact of the 2006 event.

We have however been very encouraged by Southern Water’s willingness to engage with Fish Legal, to recognise the damage caused to our member club’s fishery downstream of their works and more generally, to recognise the presence of angling clubs across the Southern Water region.”

He added:

“Since the incident, Southern Water has spent in excess of £2 million on improvements at the sewage works concerned and they have extended an open invitation to all members of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Angling Society to visit the newly refurbished works to see for themselves the investment that has gone into improving the quality of discharges into the club’s waters.”

Southern Water and Fish Legal together are looking to compile a list of all angling clubs downstream of sewage works in Southern Water's area so they can be contacted immediately in the event of any problems at any of Southern Water's sites.

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