Sewage spills in Nidd and Ure more than doubled in 2023
Mar 27, 2024
The River Nidd

The Environment Agency has published its annual storm overflow spill data for 2023 – and the two main rivers in the Harrogate district saw significant increases.

The agency today released its event duration monitoring data, which shows the frequency and duration of sewage spills as a result of storm overflows in England.

It includes data from the nation’s 10 water and sewage companies, including Yorkshire Water.

Yorkshire Water recorded the second highest number of storm overflow spills. Its 77,761 figure was surpassed only by United Utilities, which released sewage on 97,537 occasions.

The Stray Ferret has been looking at the data for storm overflows that affect the River Nidd and the River Ure.

The Nidd flows through Pateley Bridge and Knaresborough and its tributaries, such as Crimple Beck and Oak Beck, run through Harrogate.

The Ure flows through Masham, Ripon and Boroughbridge.

Nidd and Ure data

The Nidd saw a total of 16,226 hours of sewage spills in 2023, which is a 120% increase from the year prior (7,380 hours).

The data also shows the total number of spills using the Environment Agency’s 12-to 24-hour count method, which records spills according to their duration.

Any discharge in the first 12-hour block is counted as one spill. Any discharge in the next 24-hour blocks are each counted as one additional spill.

This method is used to ensure very long, continuous spills over multiple days are not counted as one spill.

Using this method, the number of counted spills in the Nidd in 2023 was 1,561, compared with 1,010 in 2022 (a 55% increase).

The Ure saw a mammoth 11,612 hours of sewage spills in 2023 – a 166% increase from 2022’s 4,370 hours.

Using the 12-to-24-hour count method, the Environment Agency recorded a total of 1,238 spills in the Ure in 2023, compared to 880 in 2022.

Yorkshire Water ‘disappointed’ by figures

We contacted Yorkshire Water for comment on the number of spills.

A spokesperson for the firm said it was “disappointed about the number of discharges in 2023”.

They added:

“This increase is due to the wet weather experienced in the 12-month period, which included 11 named storms. The weather experienced in the region in 2023 included a very wet summer and prolonged heavy rainfall towards the end of the year resulting in groundwater infiltration into the sewer network.

“Overflows operate during prolonged or heavy rainfall and multiple storms in close succession can lead to increased discharges due to the storm capacity being used up.

“Our teams worked hard throughout 2023 to reduce discharges as part of our commitment to improve the operation of our network. As a result, our modelling indicates investment in our network and changes to our operations since 2021 equate to an improvement of 12,980 discharges when normalised against rainfall.”

The spokesperson added Yorkshire Water was “making headway” with a £180 million programme to reduce discharges across the region by April 2025.

They continued:

“Work is in progress on 62 projects, including some on the Nidd and Ure, that will reduce discharges from some of the most frequently operating overflows, with more to follow later in the year.”

National picture

The Environment Agency revealed a 54% increase in the total number of sewage spills in 2023 compared to the year prior, and said there were 14,318 storm overflows during the calendar year — up from 13,313 in 2022.

A total of 100% of storm overflow networks are now fitted with event duration monitors in line with the government target, the agency added, which enables it to collect data.

Helen Wakeham, director of water at the agency, said:

“Whilst it is disappointing that water companies have reported an increase in sewage spills in 2023, it is sadly not surprising. We are pleased to see record investment from the water sector, but we know it will take time for this to be reflected in spill data – it is a complex issue that won’t be solved overnight.

“No other country has the level of monitoring we do, with 100% of storm overflows in England now fitted with a monitor. We are better placed than ever before to hold water companies accountable.”

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