ENVIRONMENT AGENCY NEWS RELEASE
Allowing sewage to pollute Wash Dike at Pontefract – and ignoring warning alarms about the incident - cost Yorkshire Water fines of £2,000 and costs of £2,240 at Pontefract Magistrates Court on Friday (January 18, 2008).
On 16 August 2006 the Agency received a report that Wash Dike was discoloured and fish had been seen gasping at the surface near the intersection with the River Calder. Environment Agency Officers went upstream to the Sowgate Lane Pumping Station and noted that the storm tanks were all full - even though there had been no rain for days – and there was a ‘large consistent discharge’. Upstream the watercourse was clear, but downstream of the discharge it was a very murky grey colour, consistent with sewage pollution.
Water samples showed the levels of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) were around 50 times those observed upstream. The ammonia levels were significant enough to have been toxic to fish. The level of suspended solids was 10 times that noted upstream.
Yorkshire Water Services said that an intruder had broken into the Pumping Station and had closed the inlet pen stock but although an alarm had gone off at 11pm on August 15 indicating that the pumps had failed and a second alarm had gone off around 2.40am on August 16 to indicate a storm tank overflow, no-one had gone to the Pumping Station until around 10:30am.
In mitigation YWS said that they had been the victim of vandals which caused the problem at the pumping station which led to the sewage discharging. The way their alarm system was set up at the time they were only required to respond to the alarms within 24 hours. The company accepted that if it had reacted more quickly on this occasion the impact would have been less. Since this incident the company has reconsidered the way its alarm system operates and any second alarm would generate an immediate response so that any discharge would be dealt with.
Jill Fogg, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said that the incident had had a major impact on the watercourse and it had been classified as a Category 1 incident and Yorkshire Water had accepted that if they had gone to the pumping station sooner, the the impact could have been reduced.
Environment Officer, David Ramsey, said: “Sewage is very polluting to the water environment. It causes oxygen to be removed from the water and contains ammonia, which is very toxic to fish. The sewage affected approximately a 3km stretch of the Wash Dike where fish were seen dead and in distress.
“ It is encouraging that Yorkshire Water has acknowledged that their response protocol was inadequate, and hopefully the impact of such incidents in the future will be significantly reduced by their change in alarm attendance policy,” he added.