The Solution is Less Pollution. Campaign for Clean Water in the Wharfe. Updated 26th Jan 2019

Raw Sewage in the Wharfe - our campaign to make our river clean


Ilkley Town Meeting: The Solution is Less Pollution: Protecting The Wharfe & Ilkley Environment.7th February 17.30 - 19.30, Ilkley Grammar School. Register here

What more can be done so our Town can have a clean River? What else are we doing in Ilkley to protect our environment? This meeting is a chance to find out more about the issues and also see what we can do as a community. Anyone is welcome.

Ilkley Residents have been trying to get to the bottom of the increasingly regular raw sewage discharges into the Wharfe at Ilkley Sewage works. They are now holding a Town Meeting to discuss how to protect the Wharfe and town environment in the face of very slow progress. The Town Council and John Grogan MP have met with the Environment Agency (EA) and Yorkshire Water and have been active in trying to get the problem solved, but its proving to be one of those issues where its tricky to find out who is responsible and who should act. This meeting is to get to the bottom of who should be taking responsibility for thee water quality in our river. Meanwhile we have found out that residents don't know that:

  • 1. Ilkley Sewage plant discharges raw sewage into the Wharfe when it rains
  • 2. The river is not designated for bathing and is contaminated

So the meeting will also inform residents about the current situation - which we think is unacceptable in a Spa town. We have lots of stories of people getting sick after swimming in our river, we have hardly any fish, and we are in danger of permanently destroying our river.

It's not just Yorkshire water and the EA that need to act, we can play our part as a Town. As well as posing questions to the Agencies and our representatives, there will also be an opportunity to discuss what more we can do as a town. For instance we could help reducing the overall volume going into the sewage works (from house waste and from rainfall), by stopping rain run off from buildings going into the drainage system as its high volumes of water that trigger the direct discharge. At the meeting we will be looking to see how any large buildings (Schools, Supermarkets, The Pool, Care homes ) in Ilkley can get involved in ways of preventing run off through Sustainable Drainage Systems - making hard surfaces permeable, intercepting roof water, creating rain gardens and building soakaways. We can also all help by only flushing the 3Ps down our loos (can you guess what they are?). Yorkshire Water is supporting these schemes in other towns. Finally we are discussing the new 'sustainability section' of the Ilkley Neighbourhood Plan which can include all forms of pollution and its a chance for businesses and residents to get involved.

We also want to thank Ilkley Grammar School for providing us with space to hold this meeting, and its commitment to the Town and environment.

The Town Council has written again to the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water. See their update here

New info: Plans to pipe the sewage from Addingham to Ilkley were made in 1968/9, and seems there has been no increase in storm tank capacity at all since then, despite the large number of houses built post 1980. So we take both Addingham and Ilkley capacity despite the increase in housing across both towns.

The Environment Agency seems to think the level of discharge of sewage into or river is absolutely fine. We are asking for the limits to be raised (the level of inflow at which sewage is allowed to be discharged). The limit is supposed to be at 'storm level' but actually in Ilkley it is every time it rains.

20th December Sewage Discharge into the Wharfe at Ilkley and Addingham

20th December 2018

Here is todays discharge 2nd Dec (which we think is an illegal one). Why are the limits being reached at low levels of rain (ie drizzle)? Well a mix of climate issues, increased population, and buildings that send run-off (rain off roofs) directly into the sewage system rather than into the ground. Yorkshire Water has checked for inflitration and its not that.

Sewage running into the river today after a morning of drizzly rain

Thank you Yorkshire Water for investing in some elements of upgrade to the Sewage works to help clear our solids and get inflow into the storm tanks. We are looking forward to seeing the impact of these. Any idea when it will be operational? However we know this wont fix the problem. We are still looking for upgrades that means sewage will only be discharged under exceptional circumstances not regularly.

Meanwhile we need signs like this for the river between the iron bridge and the stepping stones, as we don't think people realise that sewage is discharged untreated regularly

Research Shows Water Companies are using price rises to pay dividends to their shareholders not to improve services.

Sept 2018. PUBLIC SERVICES INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH UNIT (PSIRU) Report 'The Privatised Water Industry in the UK. An ATM for investors' shows that water companies are not investing in their services with their 40% price rise since they took over the industry:

1. The 40% rise in prices has been used by the water companies to service the interest on debt not to improve the service (make investments). It is not driven by higher costs. HOWEVER:

2. "the accelerating debt levels are primarily the result of disproportionate dividend pay-outs, which exceeded the privatised companies’ cash balances in all but one year since 1989". So they havent been paying off debt - so our bills have gone up to service the owners. Robbing the poor to pay the rich.

And "the way the industry operates.....seems to disadvantage consumers greatly without their knowledge, as there is a fog of misleading statements by the companies and the regulator

Environment Agency report to Town Council 1st October

Overall we got the impression the Envt Agency License Yorkshire Water operates under at the Ilkley Plant is a license to print money not a license to protect our river or our town. The license is clearly not fit for the Ilkley and Addingham population that is serves, and certainly not for the planned growth in that population. In fact it looks like no planning has taken place at all. The EA officer says he's happy to swim in the river in Otley - guess we could all go there then!! The license isn't being properly monitored given the Town's concern, including spot water quality checks. A new check point is being put in place and it wil take a year for the results to be sufficient to be useful!! And finally the EA isn't responsible for people's health.

We know that:

  • The water quality is declining
  • Very little rain (10mm) triggers an outpouring of raw sewage into the river - so the license isn't fit for purpose
  • The sewage works doesn't have capacity for the town
  • There hasn't been any real planning for current or future capacity
  • No-one cares about people swimming in the river - apparently everyone does it knowing that there is raw sewage being discharged all the time.

It seems the only solutions seems to be ones that cost YW hardly any money - because it would pass this onto customers rather than take it out of it profits. We are the customers and so we might have something to say about that. We want some of the annual profits being made on the back of turning our river into an open sewer to go on upgrading the sewage works in Ilkley.



Issue 1: Discharge within the license Storm Conditions: August 27th it rained all day. Wharfedale Naturalists recorded a total fall of 10mm over the day (1 cm). Yorkshire Water was discharging untreated sewage directly into the Wharfe again. At the Town Council Meeting YW was challenged. Their response was the catchment area generates the conditions for discharge at this low level. Our response is - we need a plant that can cope with the population size and catchment area. We cannot have raw sewage released into the Wharfe every time it rains in Ilkley (which as we know is very regularly).

Issue 2: Solids being discharged. Yorkshire Water has agreed to put 2 x 6mm screens on the outflow. So now we shouldn't see scenes like our photos below again. Yorkshire Water has been cleaning up after discharge when we notify them, so we are looking forward to this happening unprompted from now on. This was a key goal for our campaign and its great to see progress.

Issue 3: Temporary Pump. YW has increased the capacity of the works with a temporary pump, with the plan to put a permanent one in - however that was before the 27th August 1cm rainfall, so it doesn't seem to make a difference when it rains. This looks like an ineffective solution for the real issue of raw sewage discharge.

Issue 4: Planned upgrade. We requested YW bring forward the planned upgrade, which is due 20124, to reflect the needs of the population (and the closure of the Addingham site). YW say they will get back to us and have offered a site visit with us (Town Council and local residents campaign group). We are campaigning for a 2019 upgrade.

What next? We need warning signs up about the fact its not safe to swim. Hoping the council will request these signs. We heard from people swimming in the Burley weir how have been taken ill. If you have been ill or your dogs have been ill after swimming in the river please let us know .


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

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