Water quality in a Hexham burn has been improved after an intensive investigation helped identify and resolve problems at six homes.

Household appliances and bathrooms at the properties were found to be incorrectly connected into the wrong drains.


Northumbrian Water and the Environment Agency took action after reports of bad smells and discoloured water coming from a surface water outfall in a resident’s garden.


The outfall is designed to let rainwater from neighbouring roads and streets flow into Skinner Burn, which then runs into the River Tyne.


However, when Northumbrian Water investigated 35 houses in the area, six had issues known as “misconnections”.


A misconnection is where a household appliance or bathroom fitting is incorrectly connected, so that, instead of discharging wastewater into the foul sewer network, it drains into the surface water network – and ultimately a local watercourse.


Within the six properties, the water company found five toilets, five handbasins, two baths, three dishwashers, two showers, four kitchen sinks and five washing machines all misconnected.


The team then worked with property owners that were responsible for fixing their private pipework, helping them with support and advice, as well as correcting an issue which was the company’s responsibility - and all misconnections have now been resolved.


Jo Devlin, Technical Support Advisor at Northumbrian Water, said: “Misconnections can have a detrimental impact on local rivers, streams and seas, and this was a rarer case where the outfall from the surface water network was actually in a customer’s garden, feeding into Skinner Burn.


“Due to the customer reporting a series of occasions when she had noticed that what was coming out of the outfall clearly wasn’t just rain, we worked under the instruction of the Environment Agency and within a month had surveyed every property on the local estate and identified the misconnections. It’s great news that these have all now been corrected. 


“Misconnections can happen when people have extensions built, or when other changes are made in their house, such as a washing machine being moved to a different room. Instead of draining to the foul network, or sewer, they are connected to pipes that are part of the surface water network and which take water straight to a local watercourse.


“More often than not, the homeowner will be unaware of where their wastewater is going and that there is a problem.   The response here was amazing and within a very short period of time the issues were all fixed and the pollution of the surface water into the burn has now stopped, which is brilliant for the environment – and for the customer whose garden contains the outfall.”


Work to identify misconnections is normally done in partnership between a water company, local authority and the Environment Agency.


The Environment Agency’s Sharon Davies said: “Misconnections from properties can have significant impacts on local streams and rivers. It’s important that householders, when making improvements to their properties with extensions, new bathrooms, kitchens, or even just plumbing in new appliances, make sure they are connected to the correct drain. We have had some great results working with Northumbrian Water to identify and support rectifying these types of issues in order to protect the water environment.”