The Environment Agency has succeeded in its prosecution against Yorkshire Water following a pollution incident in November 2017.
On Friday 28 January Leeds Crown Court heard how the failure of a valve at a sewage pumping station near Bradford caused an estimated 20 million litres of raw sewage to be discharged into the Tong Beck over a four day period.
An investigation by the Environment Agency into the impact of the pollution found that it had caused significant damage to the ecology of the beck and led to the death of hundreds of adult and juvenile brown trout downstream of the pumping station.
Yorkshire Water’s Dale Road site in Cockersdale had previously been a sewage works but was converted into an automated and unmanned pumping station. The pumping station incorporates an underground well into which sewage flows under gravity. From the well sewage is sent by large pumps via a rising main to a local sewage works.
The Environment Agency had raised concerns following issues with the pumps at the pumping station in 2010/11 and in response Yorkshire Water had upgraded the pumping station and renewed the pumps in 2012. During the re-fit, the company installed what was intended to be a temporary isolation valve on the rising main just outside the boundary of the pumping station. The temporary valve was not installed to the same standard as permanent infrastructure, neither was it mapped by Yorkshire Water on its asset record system or scheduled for inspection.
The unmanned pumping station uses a telemetry system to monitor the working condition of the pumps, but there was no telemetry monitoring of the rising main. As such, the system did not notify Yorkshire Water’s monitoring station of the failure of the valve or the resulting loss of sewage from the rising main.
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said:
“All businesses, including water companies have a responsibility to ensure their activities do not present a risk of harm to people and the environment. Yorkshire Water’s failure to adequately safeguard its systems has led to significant damage to the ecology of Tong Beck, which may take many years to recover. We welcome the ruling by Magistrates in Leeds today and hope that this sends a strong message to others that the Environment Agency will hold polluters to account.”
In mitigation, Yorkshire Water expressed remorse and told how they acted quickly once they became aware of the discharge. They commissioned their own sampling and analysis, monitored the watercourse over the following days, undertook a full clean-up of the site and immediate area and undertook repairs to ensure the pumping station was brought quickly back into operation.