A water utility firm has pledged to go the extra mile to ease concerns over discharging effluent into the region’s rivers after councillors voiced horror over the volumes of pollution it was responsible for.
Yorkshire Water issued a statement saying it “completely understands the increased public interest in river quality in our region”, adding it was an issue that must be addressed by a range of agencies working together.
The firm’s statement follows Richmondshire District Council unanimously voting to press the firm to take urgent action to tackle the number of pollution spills into the area’s watercourses.
Elected members expressed disgust as they heard how popular beauty spots where children often swam were frequently being polluted with sewage dumped by Yorkshire Water.
Councillors agreed to write to the utility firm’s chief executive to address the impact of waste-water discharges on our local rivers and in its planning consultation responses for major development, to clarify which treatment works will be managing the sewage.
Yorkshire Water will also be asked to provide whether it has information to assess the impact on the number or duration of sewage discharges into local rivers or seas and to publish the details.
A meeting of the authority heard how The Campaign to Protect Rural England had found in 2020 there were 4,800 spills from 715 sites in North Yorkshire over some 195,000 hours.
However, the meeting was told number of spills in the neighbouring Skipton and Ripon constituency had been even higher than in Richmondshire, which itself accounted for 25 per cent of North Yorkshire.
The meeting heard the pollution in rivers in the Richmondshire area, such as the Swale, the Ure and the Tees, would be carried downstream to areas such as York and and eventually out to sea.
He said last year Yorkshire Water had made 650 dumps in the River Swale over 3,100 hours and Richmond sewage works had made 115 dumps.
Coun Wicks said: “It is clear that our local rivers are particularly threatened by sewage discharge.This is a national issue that shames us all. It is on our own doorstep literally. One should never foul one’s own nest.”
Councillor Helen Grant, the council’s deputy leader, said the situation was “horrifying when you consider how many kids go swimming in out river”.
Councillor Stuart Parsons added a huge number of people swam in Swale at the iron bridge in Richmond, near to where sewage was regularly leaking from.
He said: “The most terrifying thing is that we are warned of these leaks or even informed of them as they happen, so there is no way to be able to gauge when it is safe to swim.”
Councillors have called on Yorkshire Water to inform residents so they can make an informed decision about using the waterways.
In response, a Yorkshire Water spokeswoman said storm overflows are permitted by the Environment Agency and act as a release valve to protect homes from flooding when there is significant rainfall.
She added: “However, we know that they operate more often than we and our customers would like and we’re working hard to make improvements across the region.
“As well as supporting the government’s Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan, we will look to go beyond the regulatory measures with our customers’ and regulators’ support. We’re carrying out additional work to reduce spills, and recently announced an extra £180m investment from our shareholders that will take our total investment in river water quality between 2020-2025 to almost £1bn.
“Water companies have a key role to play, but our investment alone will not achieve good ecological status for rivers. Coordinated action is needed by farmers, local authorities, businesses and local people.”