Yorkshire Water has called for a ban on plastics in wet wipes and all single-use sanitary items, as well as an end to ‘Fine to Flush’ labelling and the introduction of mandatory ‘Do Not Flush’ warnings on single use sanitary items packaging.
In evidence supplied to the government, Yorkshire Water has also called for an extension of the responsibility of manufacturers to cover cost of educating customers about correct methods of disposal, and clean-up costs resulting from incorrect disposal.
Ben Roche, director of wastewater at Yorkshire Water, said: “Wet wipes containing plastic, which do not break down in the sewer like toilet paper, are regularly flushed into our sewer network. These have a significant impact on the operation of our network and can lead to restricted toilet use, sewage entering homes and gardens, sewage escapes into the local environment or pollution to local watercourses.
“We have backed Fleur Anderson’s bill to ban plastics in wet wipes and are urging the government to take further action to ban plastics in all single use sanitary items. We are also calling for the government to increase responsibility of manufacturers of all single use sanitary items to cover cost of educating customers about correct methods of disposal, and the clean-up costs that come from incorrect disposal. We millions of pounds of customers’ bills, money which could be better spent elsewhere, to clear these blockages and believe this cost should be covered by manufacturers of wet wipes and plastic-containing sanitary products.
“We have concerns that the current ‘Fine to Flush‘ standard is not reflective of real-world customer behaviour and means many products that pass the standard still have the potential to cause blockages. The standard sends a confusing message to customers and therefore makes behaviour change more difficult. We believe the government should introduce mandatory ‘Do Not Flush’ labelling of single use sanitary items to remove confusion around what can and can’t be flushed down the toilet.”
The UK uses 11 billion wet wipes per year and 90% of those contain plastic. In 2021, 45% of the blockages Yorkshire Water removed from the sewer network in the region were caused by wet wipes being incorrectly flushed down toilets, costing millions of pounds to resolve.
Across the water industry, blockages caused by baby and toddler wipes, cleaning wipes, and facial and hand wipes cost around £100m to clear
Yorkshire Water will invest up to £13m in its wastewater network and treatment works, upstream of a stretch of the River Wharfe at Ilkley designated as an inland bathing water, to help improve water quality.
The utility company has called on other stakeholders to take steps to tackle additional sources of pollution. The announcement comes as the UK’s first inland bathing water at Ilkley is expected to be rated ‘poor’ by the Environment Agency.
In the year since the bathing water designation, Yorkshire Water has been modelling the catchment around Ilkley to understand the factors influencing water quality.
The modelling has indicated during periods of dry weather the main contributors to background bacteria were from agricultural operations, local domestic waste patterns, misconnections, and treatment works at Beamsley, Draughton and Grassington.
Further modelling will be taking place in the future to increase available data and improve the understanding of all factors influencing water quality in the river.
Yorkshire Water is committing up to £13m investment in a range of measures that aim to improve the Wharfe upstream of the bathing water. Enhanced disinfection measures will be applied to the final effluent returned to the environment at Grassington, Draughton and Beamsley treatment works, much like the measures taken on the coast, to reduce the impact on water quality.
Work will also be carried out to investigate misconnections in the catchment and a scheme to reroute the sewer network in some areas of Ilkley will be carried out to reduce discharges from storm overflows. A project is already underway to upgrade Rivadale CSO as part of this investment.
Ben Roche, director of wastewater at Yorkshire Water, said: “We’re keen to play our part in improving water quality in the River Wharfe following the first Environment Agency classification of the inland bathing water at Ilkley. Our modelling indicates acting upstream of the bathing water, at our treatment works at Grassington, Draughton and Beamsley, will deliver the greatest benefit in terms of improving water quality via our assets. We are also assessing the pumping station at Addingham and considering green and sustainable solutions.
“We have outlined up to £13m investment in our network that will help to reduce discharges into the river during prolonged spells of rain and reduce the impact of treated effluent being returned to the environment. This funding is over and above existing investment plans for the current five-year period.
“While our investment will help improve water quality, it alone will not guarantee an improvement in the bathing water classification. Our modelling indicates pollution is entering the watercourses from a variety of sources, including misconnections and agricultural land which the river and its tributaries run through. It is important other landowners and stakeholders take action to ensure water quality is improved in the future, with the ultimate aim of improving the bathing water classification.”
Work is already ongoing, in collaboration with Bradford Council and the Environment Agency, to reduce infiltration of surface water into the sewer network from Ilkley Tarn. A smart wastewater network pilot for Ilkley will begin this year to trial using smart monitoring, analytics and control solutions to understand the sewer network from homes to treatment works and, once treated, discharges back into the environment.
It is hoped the pilot will offer real-time, end-to-end management and control of wastewater assets, reducing intermittent discharges from CSOs and sewer flooding, identifying areas for further investment and improving energy efficiency to reduce carbon emissions.
Yorkshire Water has also assisted with the iWharfe project, a citizen science initiative conducted by the Ilkley Clean River Group, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust and Addingham Environment Group. One of its conclusions was in tributary becks from Bolton Abbey to Ilkley there are occasions during the bathing water season when weather patterns and riverflow behaviour can combine to generate faecal bacteria concentrations in the main river that are unsafe for bathing, independently of discharges from sewage treatment works and combined sewer overflows.
Yorkshire Water has revealed that its mean ethnic pay gap is 3% and after becoming one of the first companies in the county to publish, has encouraged others to follow suit.
The firm is committed to being one of the most transparent companies not just in the water sector but throughout the country and earlier this year announced it was going to release the majority of its operational data by 2020.
The ethnic pay gap figure appears in the company’s first workforce diversity report which is published today. In addition to the figure for Yorkshire Water, the report also includes the pay gap for its customer service business Loop, which is 6.6%. The combined mean ethnic pay gap for the two businesses is 17.9% and the median is 27.6% due to the size populations in each organisation and the difference in salaries.
As well as the pay gap figures, the report shows how the workforce breaks down at all levels by gender and ethnicity. It also details differential recruitment and promotion performance across both these dimensions. The company has also published a limited amount of data relating to disability in the workforce.
In the report it recognises that although its data on gender is comprehensive, information on ethnicity and disability is less complete as a number of colleagues at the company have chosen not to disclose.
The report mostly shows data tables without a narrative or explanation as Yorkshire Water wants to let the data speak for itself and then enter into an open dialogue with its colleagues in the business, the communities from whom its workforce is derived and with other stakeholders.
The company is also looking at releasing its disability pay gap in the future and although Chief Executive Richard Flint is pleased that Yorkshire Water has taken a lead, admits there is still more to be done.
“We made a commitment to take a leading position on openness and transparency and this report is an important part of that commitment,” he said.
“We intend to have an open dialogue with other large employers, such as local authorities, so that we can align our efforts to improve the diversity of our workforce with theirs and ensure we are working collaboratively.
“However, we know we must not rest on our laurels. We currently have no data on any of the other protected grounds such as religion and belief, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership or pregnancy and maternity.”
To improve, Yorkshire Water will work on the completeness of its data and will launch a plan to raise awareness of the importance of self-declaration amongst its colleagues and will engage with them so that they will do so confidently and safely. Keen to make the use of technology, Yorkshire Water will also be making use of data analytics tools which will can help it to provide some of the missing ethnic profile data.
Richard Flint added: “Our priority is to substantially improve our data so that next year’s report shows an even more comprehensive picture. At the very least we would expect to show comprehensive disability data and also calculate our disability pay gap once the level of available data makes that a meaningful statistic. We will progressively extend that coverage, in line with improved self- declaration until we cover all the protected grounds.”
Rachel Reeves, MP said: “I’m encouraged by Yorkshire Water’s decision to be open and publish their ethnic pay gap statistics. This approach will lead to honest conversations and I am sure, positive changes. I am hoping other companies not just in Yorkshire but around the country follow suit.”
For more information, please CLICK HERE to download the Workforce Diversity Report.
Yorkshire Water has started a £17m scheme to improve the final effluent released into rivers and becks from four of its sewage plants to help meet environmental targets on phosphorus removal.
Waste water treatment processes will be improved at Skipton, Gargrave, Foulridge and Earby sewage works to improve the quality of treated water returned to local watercourses including the River Aire and Earby Beck.
As part of the EU Water Framework Directive, the amount of phosphorus has become a measure of the health of rivers and watercourses.
Phosphorus is a normal part of domestic sewage and ends up at sewage works as it is contained in household products such as shampoo, washing powders and washing up liquid.
The problem with phosphates is when they are at high levels in water bodies, which can trigger algal blooms that block sunlight from reaching lower waters, thereby causing plants to die. As the plants and algae decay they cause depletion of oxygen levels, resulting in fish suffocating.
Mark Allsop, Communications Advisor at Yorkshire Water, said: “By upgrading our waste water treatment processes we will be able to remove more phosphorus so that it is not released into the natural environment where it can negatively impact on aquatic life.”
Yorkshire Water is investing a total of £70m at 16 of its sewage treatment works to improve over 196 kilometres of watercourses to ensure the company exceeds targets to reduce phosphorus levels.
A wetter than average end to the year has given a welcome boost to Yorkshire’s reservoirs, which had been impacted by one of the driest summers on record in 2018.
The weather has been wetter since the end of November, with December seeing 135% of the long term average rainfall. This wet weather, combined with the use of Yorkshire’s unique grid system to maximise river and groundwater sources has led to significantly increased reservoir stocks in the region.
During the last week of November and first two weeks of December reservoir stocks increased by 26%; the largest ever improvement in reservoir stocks over a three-week period in Yorkshire. As a result, reservoir levels are now closer to normal levels and at the start of January 2019 were at around 84%.
The latest figures have been published as part of Yorkshire Water’s commitment to publishing water resources data through it’s open data programme, which was announced last month.
Thanks to the improved situation, the company no longer needs to pursue drought permits to reduce compensation flows from the region’s reservoirs, but is continuing with drought permits for two rivers, the Wharfe and the Derwent.
The Environment Agency recently approved Yorkshire Water’s application for a drought permit to increase the annual abstraction limit for the River Wharfe and an application for a drought permit for changes to the abstraction licences for the River Derwent is currently being considered.
Yorkshire Water Chief Executive Richard Flint said, “Overall the position has improved significantly in recent weeks, but we are not complacent and will continue to carefully manage the situation throughout the winter to ensure we are in the best possible position going into next spring and summer.”
“As part of that precautionary approach we are continuing with plans for drought permits on the Wharfe and Derwent. During the summer we maximised the amount of water we took from river sources in order to protect reservoir levels. The drought permits are important as they will ensure we continue to have the flexibility to draw on river sources to protect reservoir stocks in the early spring.”
This summer’s dry weather has also prompted Yorkshire Water to look at new options for managing demand in dry weather for the future.
Richard Flint said, “Traditionally the response to drought conditions has been to consider restrictions on customers’ water use, such as hosepipe bans. But a lot has changed since the idea of hosepipe bans was developed, both in terms of technology and people’s attitudes. This summer’s dry weather has brought those changes to the fore and we’ll soon be sharing work we’ve been doing with the Environment Agency and others to look at how we can help our customers to make decisions about their own water use in a way that contributes to reduced demand across the whole region”.
Yorkshire Water is to invest £30m in its waste water treatment works in Saltend, Hull to improve the site’s operation.
The work, which will begin in December, with completion late Autumn 2020, will help the firm produce more sludge.
Sludge is a bi-product of waste water treatment and the anaerobic digestion process produces bio-gas which is used to fuel a Combined Heat and Power engine which heats water for the process and generates electricity.
This electricity will be used to power the site and any surplus electricity will be transferred to the electricity grid.
Yorkshire Water is also looking at alternative uses of the bio-gas such as, after cleaning, injecting in to the gas grid to provide renewable energy to homes and businesses.
Yorkshire Water Senior Project Manager, Mike Smith, said: “We are delighted to announce this investment which will make a huge improvement to the performance of the site. This investment shows our commitment to invest in renewable energy and benefit the environment as we look at ways of becoming more efficient and self-sufficient and help keep customers’ bills low.”
The site will also have a new inlet works, which will make the site more resilient by giving the firm greater ability to remove unwanted items from the incoming waste water.