Untreated sewage dumped in River Wharfe

BBC factual programme Panorama has investigated the Wetherby treatment works run by Yorkshire Water.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 4:23 pm

Footage shot by local campaigner Mark Barrow, of Beneath British Waters, shows the works dumped untreated sewage into the River Wharfe on several occasions last year.

But the programme found Yorkshire Water failed to report any of these spills to the Environment Agency.

Its annual filing showed no sewage dumping at all at Wetherby.

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Yorkshire Water told the programme: “We have not misled the Environment Agency, this is a single data anomaly within a very large set of data and we will certainly investigate what has happened here.

“There is a process for correcting submitted data with the Environment Agency and if it is found that there has been an unreported discharge we will report this in due course.”

Water companies have been illegally dumping untreated sewage into rivers in England and Wales, an investigation by BBC Panorama has found.

Data analysed by the programme showed some companies have regularly breached the conditions in their permits.

Treatment works are only allowed to put sewage into waterways after wet weather and when they are close to capacity.

The water industry says it will invest more than a billion pounds over five years to reduce discharges into rivers.

Treatment works are allowed to release sewage into rivers and streams after extreme weather, such as torrential rain, and when they are operating close to full capacity.

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

The untreated sewage is normally screened and passed through storage tanks before it is dumped.

Discharge permits issued by the Environment Agency specify the level of sewage each works has to treat before it can dump untreated sewage.

Mark Barrow, who films fish in the River Wharfe, has been highlighting waste and sewage in the River Wharfe for years and has gained support from local councillors.

Mark said of working with the Panorama programme makers: “It was an absolute pleasure to have my work about the state of uk rivers filmed, exposing the water industry secrets locally and the regulatory failings.

“People got to see what I see on an average river dive.

“Nationally there are some superb people doing amazing work including Feargal Sharkey (singer) who has done outstanding with this issue.”

Panorama said that recent figures published by the Environment Agency reveal untreated sewage, including human waste, wet wipes and condoms, was released into waterways for more than three million hours last year.

Panorama gathered detailed data from 10 water companies in England and Wales.

Panorama: The river pollution scandal is available on BBC iPlayer.