Yorkshire Water fined £1.6m after sewage pollution

Yorkshire Water has received a fine of £1,600,750 after it was found to have polluted a Bradford watercourse. It was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £170 and £22,112.79 in costs. The Company attended Leeds Magistrates Court for sentencing on 18th July 2022 and pleaded guilty to unauthorised sewage discharges into Bradford Beck, and breaches of its environmental permit.

The court heard how 25 unauthorised sewage spills into Bradford Beck had resulted from its George Street detention tank being full for up to 8 months in 2018. The tank collects and keeps a combination of rainfall and sewage from the sewer system when there is heavy rainfall. Once adverse weather conditions pass the tank uses its pumps to deliver the mixture to the sewers. If it is a lengthy event and the tank fills up, it should overflow into the watercourse. When the tank is running correctly it should be empty in dry weather.

Across 2 days in August 2018 the Environment Agency (‘EA’) received 4 reports of sewage pollution into Bradford Beck. An EA officer attended the site and an investigation followed, as well as a request to Yorkshire Water for further information. The findings revealed one or both of the 2 pumps that emptied the tank were at several times not working between August 2017 and September 2018. The EA concluded that the tank was full from January to August 2018, with sharp upturns in the data to indicate the tank spilled on 25 occasions.

The company was aware the pumps were not working, and the tank was full. They failed to repair the pumps as soon as practical, to supply a stand-by-pump, to maintain its pumps and to maintain the overflow. The community provided information which suggested wildlife had been impacted after the August 2018 sewage spills.

The District Judge found the company knew since August 2017 that there were significant issues with the tank, and it was full to capacity from January 2018. He was of the view the company knew the pumps were not working and had no way of pumping the mixture back into the sewage system. He concluded the company would have known a discharge into the tank would cause an unlawful discharge into the Beck. The District Judge found the company were reckless in the offending due to the fact they had taken actions but not with enough urgency.