There is a cross-party consensus to work more closely with Yorkshire Water to tackle sewage pollution - George Jabbour
Water quality does not only affect the ecosystem and public health, but it also impacts the wider environment and economy. Aquatic pollution from sewage discharged into watercourses by water companies could cause the spread of diseases to plants, humans, fish and other animals.
This can happen during heavy downpours when the sewerage system processing both wastewater and the additional rainwater becomes overwhelmed. To avoid flooding, storm overflows release sewage into rivers and seas.
Despite this mechanism, Yorkshire Water recently informed a public meeting that I attended that there were at least 600 incidents over the past five years where raw sewage spilled into the streets of the Skipton and Ripon constituency, one of the six areas of North Yorkshire. As a member of the Vale of Pickering Internal Drainage Board, I know how crucial investment is to managing the risks associated with infrequent weather events.
Whether it is the level of investment or the investigations into instances where water companies released sewage into waterbodies on dry days, the water industry has been under the spotlight.
Yorkshire Water’s Chief Executive Officer accepted that “people are angry” and that “seeing sewage in our rivers and seas isn’t right”. She apologised on behalf of the utility firm and acknowledged that they “should have acted more quickly to change the situation”.
Having said that, I had a positive resolution to a local matter earlier this year thanks to Yorkshire Water.
When a sewer between the pumping station and a wastewater treatment plant in the picturesque village of Sinnington burst, a tanker was allocated 24/7 to prevent the discharge of sewage into the river. Repairs then commenced and the problem was resolved.
At present, constructive discussions do take place between local councils and Yorkshire Water.
A welcome example is the actions agreed last month to tackle the poor quality of bathing water at South Bay.
As it was clear at a meeting with the Environment Agency in Scarborough back in June, this is an issue that has caused enormous concern and exasperation to both residents and Councillors.
While the degree of collaboration between Yorkshire Water and the former councils in North Yorkshire was not at the level necessary to address the serious challenges we face, there is a new opportunity.
With the merger of eight borough, district and county councils back in April to form North Yorkshire Council, Yorkshire Water can now deal with one organisation only, instead of multiple entities, each with its own policies, officers and councillors.
Having attended the Council’s environment scrutiny committee meeting a few weeks ago, I believe that there is a cross-party consensus to work more closely with Yorkshire Water. I hope that the firm will respond positively.
Should this be successful, it could become a model for other councils to follow.
George Jabbour is the councillor for Helmsley & Sinnington.