Original article from Kent Live
The Environment Agency is investigating after Southern Water discharged sewage into the sea off Margate twice last month.
A huge amount of raw sewage was dumped in the sea from Foreness Point by Southern Water on June 17 following heavy rain and a lightning strike hitting the treatment plant.
Thanet District Council and the Environment Agency put warnings in place telling residents and visitors not to swim in the sea off Margate and Broadstairs due to the negative impact on water quality – however when this advice was lifted on June 23, test results for the water quality off Margate Main Sands had not yet been processed.
An update from the Environment Agency published on June 25 explained: "We worked closely with Thanet District Council and Southern Water to advise on the clean-up operation and supported the council's decision to remove warning signs on the morning of June 23.
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"Throughout the incident, the council has continued to seek advice and guidance from us regarding bathing water quality and the risk of bacteria.
"Due to the time that had elapsed and the number of tidal cycles, by June 23 there was a notable reduction in risk.
"Following an extensive clean-up operation and regular inspections around the coast, the advice for the public not to enter the sea or the area of beach below the high water mark was lifted.
"The beaches in Thanet had routine samples taken on Wednesday 23rd and Thursday 24th.
"Unfortunately we have to wait a few days for the analysis to be complete on the samples as they are bacteriological but once they are complete they should automatically be published on the Swimfo website."
KentLive asked the Environment Agency why it supported the district council in removing no-swim warnings even though the results from water samples were not yet available.
A spokesman said: “Water companies have a legal duty to avoid pollution, acting quickly to reduce any damage that happens as a result of their activities.
“The Environment Agency is investigating the release of sewage from Southern Water’s Foreness pumping station on June 16 and 27.
“Our specialist officers used their expert knowledge of water quality to support Thanet District Council and Southern Water throughout the incident.
"This included the council’s decision to reopen the beaches on June 23 following an extensive clean-up.
“Anyone who suspects pollution in our rivers or seas is asked to call us on 0800 807060.”
The spokesman added that the decision to close and reopen beaches is always taken by the local authority rather than the Environment Agency themselves.
They said: "The test results taken following the incident are part of our ongoing investigation, but information and routine test results on all bathing waters in Kent and the rest of England is available on the Swimfo website.
"Not all discharges pose a threat to bathing waters, and we provided advice on the risk on this occasion."
The news comes as another sewage discharge was made from Foreness last week (June 27).
Southern Water says it was made via the long sea outfall which is 1.9km off shore and was a result of heavy rainfall, and that the Environment Agency was made aware "as a matter of routine".
'All enforcement options under review'
This led to the water quality of four Thanet beaches, including Margate's Main Sands, being flagged as potentially impacted by the latest discharge – and occurred while waste from the large June 17 discharge including wet wipes and sanitary towels were still being washed up on our shores.
The Environment Agency said it is investigating this second sewage release as well and is keeping "all enforcement options under review".
Southern Water's 'Beachbuoy' web page was used to notify beachgoers of the latest discharge, and a spokesman said it was not an emergency discharge but "part of the way combined sewers are designed to work to protect local properties from internal flooding during heavy rainfall".
The spokesman added: "Our Beachbuoy bathing water portal is in place to be open and transparent about releases from our Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSOs).
"We extended this service earlier this year, to include all 83 bathing waters and two recreational harbours in our region.
"We know society’s expectations and opinions about the use of CSOs have significantly changed in recent years.
"There’s growing openness and transparency about wastewater releases, along with a significant and growing demand from the public for politicians, regulators, water companies and others to take action."
To view the Southern Water 'Beachbuoy' site, click here.
Southern Water is due to be sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court next week for the misuse of storm tanks at 17 of its sites between 2010 and 2015.