YORKSHIRE Water has paid a record £1m to environmental and wildlife charities after polluting a Harrogate watercourse, following an investigation by the Environment Agency.
The company breached its environmental permit with an unauthorised sewage discharge from Hookstone Road combined sewer overflow, which polluted Hookstone Beck.
It submitted an Enforcement Undertaking to the Environment Agency proposing a charitable donation totalling £1m which is the largest ever accepted by the Agency.
Yorkshire Water recorded a profit of £544m in 2022/23 and paid shareholders £62m in dividends in early 2023.
The company will now pay £500,000 to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and £500,000 to Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust. It has also completed a £1.85m sewer network upgrade in the area as part of the enforcement terms.
An Enforcement Undertaking is a voluntary offer made by companies or individuals to make amends for their offending, and usually includes a payment to an environmental charity to carry out environmental improvements in the local area.
Hookstone Road combined sewer overflow has an environmental permit which allows a discharge into the beck when the storm sewage facility is full due to rainfall or snow melt.
On 31 August 2016 the Environment Agency received a report of pollution in Hookstone Beck. Investigating officers traced it to the overflow at Hookstone Road, which had blocked and not alerted Yorkshire Water due to faulty telemetry equipment.
The investigation found that almost 1,500 fish had been killed and water quality affected for 2.5km downstream. A series of further blockages and discharges took place in the following months.
A detailed Environment Agency investigation was undertaken, this included the use of devices called sondes in the river to measure the impact of ammonia and an assessment of Event Duration Monitoring data that revealed the company was in breach of its environmental permit.
As part of the Enforcement Undertaking requirements Yorkshire Water has already carried out a significant £1.85m improvement and rebuilding project to the overflow and surrounding sewer network to bring it back into compliance with its environmental permit.
Claire Barrow, Environment Agency Area Environment Manager in Yorkshire, said, “We always consider enforcement options on a case by case basis and Enforcement Undertakings allow companies to put right what went wrong and contribute to environmental improvements and outcomes.
“This significant £1m civil sanction will be invested back into the local area to enhance the environment for people and wildlife.
“The Environment Agency investigation also led to significant improvements to the sewer network in this area to prevent repeat incidents and ensure future compliance with environmental requirements.”
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will use the payment in North Yorkshire for new and improved homes for wildlife, mainly on their wetland reserves. This includes re-profiling Ripon City Wetlands to create muddy shores for wading birds, safe breeding islands and removing invasive plants, as well as replacing equipment. Habitat improvements on the River Tutt at Staveley nature reserve will also help to store flood water, protecting communities downstream.
Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust will use the payment to develop a programme of improvements along the River Nidd. Working through the catchment partnership – Dales to Vales Rivers Network – with local communities, other organisations and building on existing work with citizen scientists.
Those that pollute the environment will soon face unlimited penalties under new legislation being brought forward by the government.
The current limit of variable monetary penalties that the Environment Agency can impose directly on operators will be lifted, following a government consultation which received widespread public support.
This will offer regulators a more efficient method of enforcement than lengthy and costly criminal prosecutions – although the most serious cases will continue to be taken through criminal proceedings.