Yorkshire Water should take 'urgent action' to tackle sewage dumping in Yorkshire rivers

Yorkshire Water has been urged to take “urgent action” to tackle sewage dumping in the Ouse and the Foss after it emerged raw sewage was discharged into them nearly 2,500 times last year.

City of York Council’s environment chief Paula Widdowson said Yorkshire Water had a “shockingly poor track record” over the practice.

The Environment Agency allows water utilities to release sewage into rivers and streams after extreme weather events such as prolonged heavy rain.

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This protects properties from flooding and prevents sewage from backing up into streets and homes.

The River Ouse in York

Last month, the Government voted to reduce the amount of raw sewage dumped into England’s rivers, though campaigners claimed the measures did not go far enough.

City of York Council passed a motion on December 16 calling for action to clean up the city’s rivers, working with Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency to address sewage discharges and water quality data monitoring.

The council will also lobby the Government for the necessary funding, regulatory powers and policy changes to restore the health of Britain’s rivers.

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Councillor Andrew Waller said the country’s Victorian sewage network and the privatised nature of the water companies both contributed to the problem.

He said: “Progress to ensure that sewage systems are fit for the 21st century is painfully slow.”

Coun Waller added that the Environment Agency did not “have the clout to challenge and prosecute” water companies as it did not have sufficient backing from the government.

Yorkshire Water Services was fined £1.1m for discharging sewage into the River Ouse.

According to The Rivers Trust, in 2020 water companies dumped raw sewage 2,392 times into the rivers in York, for a total of 14,838 hours.

Coun Widdowson said: “The raw sewage is a real cocktail, which includes bacteria – possibly pathogens – a mix of chemicals, including pharmaceuticals , household cleaning products, microplastics and some metals.

“For people who come into contact with this dirty water, serious illness is a real possibility.”

Coun Widdowson added: “This is something I’ve directly tried to address with Yorkshire Water – asking them to stop using the 51 storm drains that dump sewage into the Ouse and the Foss.

“While I appreciate this is not something that can be done overnight, Yorkshire Water’s statement that the earliest something could be done is 2030 is laughable.”

A Yorkshire Water spokesperson said: “Water companies across the UK have combined sewer overflows (CSOs) on their networks, which reduce the risk of sewage backing up and flooding homes and businesses during heavy rainfall.

“We are committed to further improving the environmental performance of our wastewater assets as pollution in rivers is not something that we or our customers want.

“We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and making improvements in river quality is a key priority in our future plans, which includes further efforts to reduce intermittent discharges from CSOs.”