Yorkshire Water 'devastating' rivers and sea as sewage dumped every 18 minutes

  • Videos from campaign group Beneath British Waters shows sewage being pumped into the River Aire near Rodley and the River Warfe in Wetherby.

New figures show on average Yorkshire Water dumped raw sewage into rivers and the sea every eighteen minutes over the past five years.

Environment Agency statistics show between 2016 and 2021 there were more than 160,000 spill events in the region's waters, with sewage pumped into the natural environment for more than a million hours.

Yorkshire Water says it is working hard to make improvements to river quality and meeting spill targets is a key part of its five-year plan.

Sewage discharge visible underwater in the River Aire near Rodley Credit: Beneath British Waters

After four successive 'poor' ratings for water quality at Scarborough South Bay between 2016 to 2019, the Environment Agency say the long-term trend for bathing quality water across Yorkshire is positive, with the North Yorkshire beach now rated 'sufficient' ahead of fresh results due after September.

But campaigner Steve Crawford from Surfers Against Sewage says the town has been waiting for changes for too long already.

He said: "Ten years ago Yorkshire Water asked bill-payers for an extra £110m to give us the best bathing water quality in Europe, but we've still got the same situation now.

"If I paid someone to fix my roof and it wasn't right, I'd expect some recompense, so we need Yorkshire Water to answer the question why didn't it work, or give us some money back."

The water company says the sewage spills are due to so-called storm overflows, which act as relief valves when the sewerage system is at risk of being overwhelmed because of heavy rain.

It says there are a variety of factors that impact water quality on the region's beaches, not all of which are under its control.

Footage shows sewage being pumped into the River Aire near Rodley Credit: Beneath British Waters

A spokesperson for Yorkshire Water said: "We completely understand the increased public interest in river quality in our region and nationally. We know that our storm overflows operate more often than our customers, or we, would like and we're working hard to make improvements across the region."

The regulator Ofwat says the amount of sewage released into the environment "isn't acceptable" and it has launched an investigation into all waste water companies.

It has cases open into six companies, including Yorkshire Water.