FURIOUS residents are planning a protest against a water company for discharging untreated wastewater directly into chalk streams of River Test.

Riverkeepers and environment activists will meet outside the Fullerton Waste Water Treatment Works facility on the morning of Monday, March 18, to voice concerns about Southern Water's alleged practice of directly pumping untreated sewage water into the river.

The activists claim that Southern Water has been discharging untreated wastewater from its Fullerton plant for more than 25 days now.

While the company is obligated to treat wastewater at the Fullerton plant, reports suggest it's overwhelmed by winter's increased groundwater influx.

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Howard Taylor, a conservation biologist and flyfishing guide, said Southern Water is pumping wastewater directly into River Test despite chief executive Lawrence Gosden claiming it has stopped the practice.

Mr Taylor said: “Due to underinvestment for many years, Southern Water pipes are all broken and porous in a lot of big towns and villages all up and down the valley. For example, the sewer under Stockbridge High Street has completely collapsed. The businesses there have been flooded, and some of them have had excrement coming up in their cellars.

“Southern Water has had to come out several times this winter to unblock the damaged sewers.”

Initially, Southern Water attempted to address the problem by setting up temporary installations at 18 locations, allowing untreated wastewater to directly flow into the River Test.

However, following strong public outcry, the company decided to stop this process for the time being and started carrying the excess water to its Fullerton facility using tankers.

Mr Taylor said this "solution" is merely a disguised continuation of the original problem.

“What they're doing now is they're transporting all that groundwater and sewage mixed together and then taking it into the Fullerton treatment works using thousands of tankers, where they're discharging it untreated directly into the river. They're not treating that sewage at all,” he said.

Environment Agency recently issued a ruling to warn people living or working in Fullerton that there is a danger to public health as Southern Water is pumping untreated sewage into the river.

Some of the river keepers have been undertaking kick samples, which is a way of sampling invertebrates in the river.

"They found that downstream of the sewage pipe is missing all the life," Mr Taylor said.

"There's big growths of sewage fungus and they have also very sadly, found a lot of dead fish, particularly a small fish called Bullhead, which lives on the bottom of the river. It's a protected species under the site of special scientific interest designation. We've reported that to the Environment Agency."

A Southern Water spokesperson confirmed that it is discharging wastewater into River Test from the Fullerton plant.

The spokesperson said: “We are aware of concerns about our wastewater treatment works at Fullerton. Following 700mm of rain in the area since December as measured by Fullerton wastewater treatment works’ rain gauge, the site is coping with high demand caused by rain runoff and very high groundwater. Although only rated to treat 453 litres a second, the site is currently processing 520l/s and up to 550l/s  

"Storm releases are necessary to prevent flooding to homes, schools and businesses in the area."

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Meanwhile, an Environment Agency spokesman said they are investigating alleged illegal discharges of diluted sewage into the River Test in Hampshire since early February.

The spokesperson said: “Early enquiries have found Southern Water’s wastewater treatment works at Fullerton, near Andover, has become overloaded as high groundwater levels have infiltrated the sewer network following months of heavy rain. We have also instructed Southern Water to minimise the impact on the river by ensuring more effluent is fully treated, which would reduce any harm to the river.

“Specialist officers continue to assess the issue closely, and ask anyone with information that could help the investigation to contact our 24-hour incident hotline immediately on 0800 807060. This includes providing photos or videos.”