Yorkshire Water ordered to pay £150,000 for illegally discharging sewage effluent in Doncaster
The Environment Agency has successfully prosecuted Yorkshire Water Services Limited for illegally discharging sewage effluent into the Potteric Carr Nature Reserve in Doncaster in March 2017.
On September 8, at Sheffield Magistrates Court, before District Judge Redhouse, the company was fined a total of £150,000 and ordered to pay £36,506.25 costs.
YWSL pleaded guilty to two charges at an earlier hearing; causing sewage sludge to enter a tributary of the Mother Drain and breach of permit condition relating to ammoniacal nitrogen levels in their final treated sewage effluent.
Representing the Environment Agency, Rebecca Chalkley told the court that YWSL hold an environmental permit that authorises water discharges from Balby Sewage Treatment Works (STW) under a number of strict conditions.
On March 28 2017, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reported that Mother Drain at the Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, which is a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), had become discoloured and smelt of chemicals.
Environment Agency officials attended and confirmed pollution of the Mother Drain.
They saw small pieces of toilet paper floating in the water, which looked grey, and sample results confirmed high levels of ammoniacal nitrogen in the water.
Due to the severity of the pollution the Environment Agency requested the Internal Drainage Board (IDB) to switch off a pump station, used for land drainage, to prevent polluted water passing downstream to the River Torne and they instructed abstractors to cease abstracting water.
This included Doncaster Golf Club.
Once the Environment Agency contacted YWSL, they confirmed that there was an issue at Balby Sewage Treatment Works.
Officers attended Balby Sewage Treatment Works on March 29 2017 and took a sample of treated sewage effluent which contained ammoniacal nitrogen above the permitted maximum limit.
During the site visit YWSL explained that a valve failure had led to a settlement tank on site draining sewage sludge inside a building and onto surrounding ground.
Later, in an interview under caution, YWSL explained that the valve failure happened on Monday, March 27, 2017 and that they did not contact the Environment Agency because they thought effluent was contained on site.
The company further added that electrical damage caused by the incident affected parts of the works and disrupted the biological treatment processes which resulted in a deterioration of the treated sewage effluent quality.
In response to the incident YWSL placed aeration equipment in the Mother Drain, and the Environment Agency continued to investigate and monitor the effects of the pollution for over a week. There was no sign of dead or distressed fish.
In court, District Judge Redhouse found the culpability of YWSL to be ‘high negligent’ due to the fact the incident could have been avoided if there had been a drain survey at the site and if the valves had been checked.
She stated that whilst the general public may consider the actions reckless when applying common everyday language, in criminal legal terms it was negligent. She described it as “very negligent”.
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “Water companies are aware that their activities have the potential for serious environmental impacts, and they know that we will take appropriate action when they cause pollution.
“In this case Yorkshire Water has failed the environment, customers and the system of environmental laws the public puts its trust in.”