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Lib Dems want answers on Wetherby river sewage fears

by Wetherby Liberal Democrats on 4 October, 2019

David Hopps wants the fears of environmental campaigners answered

Wetherby Liberal Democrats have given their full backing to local environmental campaigners who want an explanation for the raw sewage that they say is being flushed into the River Wharfe on a regular basis.

David Hopps called for Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency to carry an “urgent investigation” into whether the Wetherby Sewage Works is functioning adequately.

Hopps, chair of Wetherby Liberal Democrats, said that upgrades began to the sewage works at Waterside Lane, south east of the town, four years ago in response to a growing population.

But records show that two recommended options were knocked back because of cost.

“There are reasons to ask whether that upgrade was a success, or whether it was a flawed solution done on the cheap,” Hopps said.

“The River Wharfe is a precious part of our environment and we cannot just shrug off any sewage issues as unavoidable. I have written to Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency to request an urgent investigation for the people of Wetherby into why this is happening.”

Wetherby-based underwater cameraman and landscape gardener, Mark Barrow, filmed the Wharfe in late September and complained that sewage was entering the river from the combined outflow pipe despite only moderate rain.

Barrow has also led the campaign against plastic and fly-tipping in the Wharfe, but has complained that the authorities are ignoring his protests.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Once the works’ capacity to treat is exceeded the permit allows the discharge of untreated sewage.”

Wetherby News, October 10

Hopps researched the recent upgrade of the sewage works and then discussed his findings with Ana Castro-Castellon, the founder of Aqua Cyan Consulting, a Bristol-based company which works to improve water quality.

Hopps said: “Investigations give strong reasons to suspect that the sewage works is not achieving the standards that the people of Wetherby have a right to expect.

“When the sewage works was upgraded, experts recommended a two-tank option which would have provided capacity for 100% of the works flow to enter a new tertiary nitrifying trickling filter (TNTF).

“But a contractor’s report suggests that Yorkshire Water’s budgetary constraints meant that they only accepted a downgraded solution for 50% of the works flow to be enhanced by the upgraded system.

“It appears that the other 50% is only meant to get two treatments, not three.”

Now Wetherby Liberal Democrats want to know from Yorkshire Water:

  • Is undiluted sewage being deposited into the Wharfe from the Wetherby plant – and how often?
  • Can assurances be given that the cut-price upgrade is up to the job?
  • Is the works’ capacity sufficient and how will it cope with planned additional housing?
  • Has a storm water tank of sufficient capacity been installed?

On the advice of Aqua Cyan Consulting, they have also expressed concerns to the Environment Agency, which has a stated responsibility “to protect and enhance the environment.”

Hopps said: “The stench reported by Mr Barrow, and the appearance of the river, invites suspicion that there has been a pollution incident. Any discharge from a sewage treatment works is illegal unless it has a discharge permit. Any discharge not complying with the terms of its permits is also illegal.”

Hopps, who has stood for the Liberal Democrats in the last two Leeds City Council elections, said: “We are entering a period of extreme weather – and the likelihood of more intense bursts of rain increases the risk that the plant will not be able to cope and that this will happen again.”

Wetherby sewage works

He added that an 800-house scheme at Racecourse Approach, approved by Leeds City Council planning officers, and due to be delivered over the next 10 years, would increase Wetherby’s population by about 20%, and was another cause for concern.

“I want to see full-scale testing of the water in the Wharfe in this area – and, if our concerns are not answered, then preferably for the town to find funding for testing by an independent body,” Hopps said.

“When the upgrade was carried out, reports confirmed that this was an area where otters badgers and ground-nesting birds flourished.

“Mr Barrow is convinced that stocks of fish such as barbel and grayling, which are known to thrive in clean rivers, have suffered a marked decline. He has also spotted the critically-endangered European eel in the river.

“Between Wetherby and Boston Spa, young people at times can still be seen river swimming, and dogs occasionally splash around.

“We need to know what is going on.”