Yorkshire Water fined £1m over sewage leak into River Ouse

The Naburn treatment plant at York
The Naburn treatment plant at York
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Yorkshire Water has been fined more than £1m following regulation breaches which led to a huge sewage discharge into the River Ouse.

Between five and six thousand cubic metres of effluent entered the river upstream from a marina near York, causing excessive ammonia levels, a court heard.

A judge criticised the company for its “clear lack of planning and contingency” in failing to carry out appropriate repairs and maintenance over a six-month period.

It is Yorkshire Water’s second large fine this year. In January the company was ordered to pay £600,000 after an ageing sewage pipe burst and killed hundreds of fish in a Wakefield lake.

In the latest incident, Yorkshire Water Services Ltd admitted failing to provide and maintain a standby pump at its Naburn Sewage Treatment Works in York.

Fining them a total of £1.1m at Leeds Crown Court, Judge Guy Kearl QC said it was plain the company “does not intentionally breach its obligations or flagrantly disregard the law”.

But he added: “The inability of a company with an annual turnover of £1bn to keep in its stores a replacement pump and spares, in the knowledge of the extended lead in time for replacement parts and pumps plainly amounts to a reckless failure to put into place a system which could reasonably be expected to avoid the commission of the offence.”

The court heard that one of the four pumps at Naburn failed due to an electrical fault in March 2013, leaving only three operating pumps and no standby. At least one standby was required under its permit.

A replacement pump was ordered but would take six months to be delivered, and a hired replacement could not be fitted because of damage in the removal of the previous pump.

Richard Bradley, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said a fault developed in the hired equipment, after which heavy overnight rain caused an increased flow into the treatment works with which the remaining pumps could not deal.

A worker discovered sewage effluent flowing into the emergency tanks and discovered that an interlock had failed between the Naburn works and the nearby Fulford pumping station which would have reduced a continued sewage flow.

The worker also discovered an unrelated problem involving a large raw sludge leak that threatened to spill on to a nearby road.

Judge Kearl said: “I am surprised that a company the site of Yorkshire Water was not able to cope effectively with two incidents at the same time.”

He accepted they had since taken remedial action including the opening of a new £1.94 million “logistics centre” to carry a greater quantity of critical spare parts.

Yorkshire Water were also ordered to pay £27,072 costs. Dominic Kay representing Yorkshire Water told the court the company accepted its failings and that the systems in place at the time “in hindsight were not sufficient.”

After the case a Yorkshire Water spokesman said: “We accept today’s judgement and apologise for the pollution incident it relates to. This was an unfortunate incident and the Judge observed in court that Yorkshire Water takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and is clearly not a company that intentionally breaches its environmental obligations or flagrantly disregards the law.

“In response to this incident, we have carried out a full investigation at Naburn waste water treatment works and taken action to prevent a repeat occurrence.”