It was once one of the dirtiest rivers in Europe, but salmon could be set to return to the stretch of the River Don through Sheffield city centre thanks to a £78m high-tech waste treatment plant.
Salmon was once so common in the River Don that it provided an affordable meal and was a staple part of the local diet, but pollution from industry during the 19th and 20th centuries later made the river uninhabitable for most wildlife.
While salmon has previously been reintroduced elsewhere along the Don, the investment in Yorkshire Water’s Blackburn Meadows water treatment works means water quality could soon be good enough for the fish to return to the centre of Sheffield for the first time in more than 100 years.
The treatment works, in Tinsley close to Meadowhall Shopping Centre, deals with the waste water of around 832,000 people in Sheffield and Rotherham.
More than £40m has been spent on high-tech waste water treatment processes that are already showing results - with a reduction in ammonia levels in the water released into the Rover Don to meet European water quality rules.
According to Yorkshire Water, the water pumped back into the river is of a higher quality than existing river water.
The results have been so good that water quality in the river is now believed to be better than at any point in since the Industrial Revolution.
Yorkshire Water chief executive Richard Flint said: “£78m is a significant sum but it highlights our commitment to improving water quality and wildlife in the River Don and also, crucially, protecting the site against the risk of extreme flooding happening again.”
The efforts by Yorkshire Water go hand in hand with those of the Canal and River Trust, the Environment Agency and the Don Catchment River Trust, which has been working for over a decade to protect, rehabilitate and improve the rivers Don, Dearne and Rother.
In June last year salmon were spotted in the River Dearne for the first time in 150 years - after a ‘fish pass’ was opened to connect the Don and Dearne to the Humber Estuary. The construction, at Sprotborough Weir was dubbed as a “significant step” to getting salmon back to rivers across South Yorkshire by the Environment Agency.
And in December, salmon were seen leaping in the Don atAldwarke weir on the eastern edge of urban Rotherham, for the first time in 150 years.
The presence of salmon at Aldwarke was made possible by a new hydropower scheme four kilometres downstream at Thrybergh weir, which also includes a specially designed passage to enable salmon, other fish and eels to swim upstream.
The Industrial Revolution had a devastating effect on salmon’s demise in South Yorkshire’s rivers, with the double whammy of pollution and weir-building, needed for boat traffic and to power industry, blocking migration routes for fish.
But over the last 20 years, dramatic improvements have been made to water quality.
In North Yorkshire, the Ure Salmon Trust have been working to increase the number of migratory fish in the river and in May last year, pupils from Goathland Primary School helped to release 70 Atlantic salmon into the River Esk at Beck Hole on the North York Moors.