Raw Sewage in the Wharfe at Ilkley Updated 1st august 2018


On Monday 15th July we had rain in Ilkley for the first time for weeks. 15 minutes after the rain started Karen Shackleton, a concerned Ilkley resident, went and checked on the Yorkshire Water Sewage plant to find that raw sewage, including solids, was being pumped directly into the river. This is the latest of many many discharges.

We contacted Yorkshire Water via Twitter with pictures of the phosphate test that she took and of the effluent stuck to the grills and on the beach

Effluent on the pebbles near the suspension bridge

Yorkshire Water sent someone out to clean the grills and then later to clean the pebble beach when we made a fuss on Twitter. But this isn't good enough. Surely they shouldn't be doing it in the first place under these normal rain conditions? And if they do surely it's not ok to be discharging solids and sanitary towels?

YW has a license to discharge sewage under under storm or snow melt conditions, after which they are required, we understand, to come down to Ilkley and clean up. We shouldn't be having to raise the issue every time it rains on twitter to get Yorkshire Water's attention. If they have made a discharge they should be here checking the banks are clean.

But lets step back a moment. Is it ok to discharge sewage into the Wharfe when it rains? This is the impact of raw sewage in our river....

The effects of raw sewage on health

Yorkshire Water say they are acting under the license set out by the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency which issues the permit says YW is acting legally and within the terms of the permit. This permit is designed to allow discharges under storm conditions and snowmelt. The EA will also tell you that the water quality they've tested is good.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) aims to ensure waters are kept clean. The WFD classification tests for water quality. Both sites Ilkley and Otley have a high diversity of invertebrates and the communities are made up of a high abundance of pollution sensitive taxa. The water quality appears to have last been tested in 2015 as good. Otley is sampled every 3 years, spring and autumn. Ilkley is supposed to be tested 4 times a year according to a response from the Environment Agency (please see the Open Government Licence here for details of permitted use of the data we received ), but we cant see any recent publicly available data since 2015.

Back to the ongoing issue of regular discharges of raw sewage into the river...

The same happened in June this year. This is what Karen sent to Cllr Hawkesworth "The last discharge I reported was after the Ben Rhydding Fete on 16th June. We had a heavy shower, which lasted about 10 minutes. I went down to the Ashlands site and both storm tanks, which are there to contain any sudden deluges were completely empty. The river was that low the sewage was pouring out onto the pebble beach. We've had no rain since and therefore all that filth has been laying there in this heat festering since then. People are flocking down to the river to cool off and I've even had to explain to picnicers exactly what they are unknowingly sat in. I wouldn't let a dog in there, never mind children swim in it."

At the beginning of April the sewage was flowing out all week and Karen was phoning the Environment Agency reporting this when West Yorkshire Fire Service turned up to practice their open water rescue drills only metres upstream from the outlet.

So it's an ongoing problem

You can see a video here

The Angling Club, Ilkley Gazette and various Parish Councillors have all raised this in multiple years but despite video and photographic evidence, Yorkshire Water continue to say they are allowed to do this under their license. As a group of concerned residents we think either the license isn't fit for purpose or it's expected that YW behaves within the intent of the license not the letter of the license. We are pretty sure that at a minimum solids shouldn't be discharged into the river.

In fact Ilkley Gazette reported it in Feb 2017

Here are some photos from 2016

As you can see - sewage plume, and solids in the water.

This is what Countryfile has to say about the pollution in our rivers

This is the requirement on Yorkshire Water in relation to the license:

"As a water company, you must design, construct and maintain sewerage systems according to best technical knowledge not entailing excessive cost (BTKNEEC). You must also limit pollution from storm overflows. To make sure you do this, you must identify storm overflows that need improvement. You must classify your storm overflows as either: unsatisfactory, substandard, satisfactory. Do this as part of your drainage strategy. Identify where investment is required."

Environment Agency Guidance: Water companies: environmental permits for storm overflows and emergency overflows

The above is from Gov.uk

Back to Karen's test in the river - this one. The phosphate level is very high. This was taken in the river at the time of the discharge.

We think the overflow at Ilkley is unsatisfactory in relation to the criteria on solids and bathing water quality. What do you think?

Questions for Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency

  1. Can you ensure us that our river is safe for bathing after a discharge? What counts as 'safe'?
  2. Are solids and sanitary products allowed to be discharged into the river as part of the license? Why are we finding these in the water and on the banks when there is a discharge?
  3. How can we be sure the regular discharges are not affecting our river quality in terms of wildlife? Are tests happening 4 times a year? Are they happening in the right place relative to the discharge?
  4. Should YW be clearning up automatically after each discharge?
  5. What counts as 'storm' conditions? Does 15 minutes of rain (3cm) count? Those were the conditions last week.
  6. Are the treatment works for for purpose (storm tanks fully operational; the kit that prevents solids going in the river fully functional) and how often are they inspected?
  7. Overall whilst YW may well be operating within the letter of the license is it operating within the spirit of the license - the WFD is to keep rivers clean after all.

So far we haven't had a response to these questions from Yorkshire Water.

It looks like many others are concerned - there has been a lot of news coverage you can see BBC here, ITV here

We like this proposal from the World Wildlife Fund : "There is a heavy reliance on self-reporting and it is largely up to individual companies to decide how they will effectively monitor overflows, and review future performance. We hope that companies will use self-reporting as an opportunity to improve their performance and to share as much information as possible with regulators, their customers and communities." (Flushed Away 2017)

28th July after 15 mins of rain YW discharged into the Wharfe. It seems that discharging directly into the Wharfe is YW default position when it rains.


This is what local residents think about this issue:

Just some of the comments on Ilkley Chat

Do get in touch if you have stories to share.

Authors: Karen Shackleton, Ilkley resident, Becky Malby (Chair Ilkley Great Get Together). Supported by Owen Wells (Chair Friends of Ilkley Moor). You can contact us on Twitter @Ilkley_BM @KarenShackleto3

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.