The Tamar estuary feeds into the popular sailing waters of Plymouth Sound

A water company has been ordered to pay more than £50,000 after repeatedly discharging sewage into an estuary that feeds into the popular sailing waters of the Plymouth Sound.

South West Water has been ordered to pay £58,375 in fines and costs after the case was brought to Plymouth Magistrates Court by the Environment Agency.
The offences were committed at the company’s Camels Head treatment works that treats sewage from 40,000 people and operates under an Environmental Permit designed to protect human health and the environment.
In 2011, investigations revealed that there were too many sewage spills from the Camels Head site storm overflow and that the water company was in breach of its permit.
The consent to discharge for Camels Head states that sewage can only be discharged from the site’s storm weir when flows exceed 420 litres per second. A storm weir is a physical barrier that can be set at different height levels. The weir at Camels Head had been set at 340 litres per second which meant it operated more often than it should have.
Sewage which should have undergone full treatment was discharged into the environment. Checks showed these illegal discharges had been taking place intermittently since March 2004.
South West Water told the agency there was a pipework restriction further along the treatment process that acted like a ‘bottleneck’ and that meant the works could only cope with a maximum flow of 340 litres per second. The court heard Camels Head was an old treatment works where there had been problems in the past.
The company said the treatment works would have flooded if sewage hadn’t been allowed to discharge from the storm weir and that plans were already in place to remove the restriction as part of a capital improvement scheme.
Appearing before Plymouth magistrates, South West Water, of Peninsula House, Rydon Lane, Exeter was fined a total of £50,000 and ordered to pay £8,375 costs after pleading guilty to two charges under the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 of discharging sewage effluent from its Camels Head sewage treatment works into a tributary of the Tamar Estuary.

Picture: Plymouth Sound and the Tamar estuary. Credit: Keith Hiscock/

Camels Head Primary tanks. Credit: Environment Agency