Yorkshire Water’s recent announcement of a £180 million investment to reduce discharges from storm overflows may seem like a step in the right direction, but critics argue that it falls short of addressing the region’s pressing water quality concerns.
The utility company’s plan specifically targets overflows that are the most frequent or have the longest duration, yet it overlooks the systemic issues plaguing Yorkshire’s rivers.
While over 190 overflows have been earmarked for investment, experts argue that this number barely scratches the surface of the problem.
Yorkshire Water’s focus on major rivers neglects the smaller tributaries and waterways, leaving significant sources of pollution unaddressed. The limited scope of their plan raises doubts about its effectiveness in improving water quality across the entire region.
Furthermore, the £180 million investment, touted as a substantial effort, is overshadowed by the utility’s previous commitments.
Yorkshire Water’s current five-year business plan already allocates £147 million, and future work planned between 2025 and 2030 is expected to be the company’s largest environmental investment since privatisation.
One has to question why it took so long for Yorkshire Water to acknowledge the severity of the issue and allocate the necessary resources.
The case of the river Wharfe at Ilkley serves as a prime example of Yorkshire Water’s delayed response. The Ilkley Clean River Group, an independent organisation, had to campaign tirelessly for bathing water designation on the Wharfe, making it the first inland location in the UK to achieve such recognition.
Yorkshire Water’s claim of taking action is belied by the fact that their efforts to improve the town’s sewage system only began this year, and the project’s completion is not expected until the end of the year. The sluggish pace of these developments raises doubts about the utility’s commitment to resolving water quality issues promptly.
Nicola Shaw, CEO of Yorkshire Water, acknowledges the company’s failure to address storm overflows quickly enough; “We did not act quickly enough to tackle the issue of storm overflows into rivers.”
While the number and duration of discharges decreased in 2022, Shaw concedes that they still occur more frequently than desired by customers.
Despite this admission, Yorkshire Water’s response remains inadequate. With over 2,200 overflows in the region, replumbing the entire network is deemed too disruptive and costly. However, this reasoning fails to provide a satisfactory solution for the communities impacted by the polluted rivers and water bodies.
The breakdown of the £180 million investment into different types of work seems promising on the surface. Increasing storage within wastewater treatment works, preventing surface water infiltration into the sewer system, reducing infiltration into sewers, and making small operational changes to treatment works appear to be positive steps.
However, experts argue that these measures do not go far enough to address the root causes of pollution. Building additional storage tanks and redirecting rainwater may offer short-term relief, but they fail to tackle the underlying problems contributing to the excessive discharges from storm overflows.
In conclusion, Yorkshire Water’s £180 million investment is a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to addressing the region’s water quality issues.
The company’s selective focus on major rivers and inadequate measures to tackle storm overflows raise concerns about its commitment to protecting the environment.
Yorkshire’s residents and the fragile ecosystems of its rivers deserve more than a superficial attempt to mitigate pollution. It is high time for Yorkshire Water to step up its efforts and prioritise comprehensive solutions that will truly safeguard the region’s water resources for future generations.