Our Plan for Yorkshire’s Rivers

Rippling water

Rivers are a vital part of Yorkshire, for people, for communities and for the environment. They’re a place to relax, exercise and learn. They are a focal point of our towns and villages and bring economic and social amenity benefits. They’re also home to wildlife from otters to water voles to salmon.

We recognise our share of the responsibility to care for our rivers and protect all they have to offer. That’s why we are committed to working with others to enhance and safeguard Yorkshire’s rivers. We are also going to work with our customers, to really understand the role rivers play in our communities across Yorkshire.

We want to know how people enjoy rivers now and what they expect from them in the future. We want to hear from Yorkshire’s civic leaders about how important rivers are to economic and social development for both urban and rural communities.

We know we can’t improve river health just on our own. We’ve created some amazing partnerships across our region that will help us to deliver even more benefits, including with environmental charities, local authorities and the Environment Agency.

We have recently embarked on a new partnership with The Rivers Trusts and the local rivers trusts; through this partnership we will seek advice and expertise from the Trusts and work collaboratively to deliver solutions with a range of benefits.

Later this year, the Government will confirm new targets for water companies to meet as part of the Storm Overflows Reduction Plan. These targets will drive the biggest investment in the sewer network since the 1990s and will significantly reduce the number of storm overflows into the region’s rivers. 

However, we aren’t waiting until these new targets come into force. We already have lots of activity planned between now and 2025, and we’re looking at how we can do even more, including bringing forward investment to meet the new targets.

This document sets out some of our plans for the next few years, but our plans will evolve as we work with customers and stakeholders to see how we can do more to meet our ambitions for Yorkshire’s rivers.

Our plan for rivers

Learning from you and keeping you informed

We want our plans to reflect the needs and expectations of customers in Yorkshire, so it’s really important to understand what our customers expect from Yorkshire’s rivers, how they use them and what opportunities there are to enhance their value in communities.

That’s why we conduct extensive customer research to inform our plans. Recently we’ve carried out extensive research on customer priorities for Yorkshire Water, including on our Drainage and wastewater Management Plan, which will play a key role in shaping our investment plans for the future. We’ve also recently been talking to customers about the impacts of covid affected and the cost-of-living crisis, as it’s really important that we recognise the context in which we are developing our plans.

We’re committed to taking the lead from what our communities want from us. We want to make sure any improvements are delivering for our customers, our communities, and our environment.

To help customers understand our performance and hold us to account, we’re committing to being much more open with our data.

We’re going to make sure all of our storm overflows are monitored by the end of 2023, building on 96% coverage from 2020.

We’ve also got some innovative plans for Britain’s first river inland bathing water site at Ilkley which will help shape the future of sewer network monitoring. It’s one of three areas where we’re piloting a smart sewer network so we can trial new monitoring technology such as outfall cameras, enhanced analytics and use of AI. We’re also linking in with citizen science data to enable us to optimise our network and develop potential solutions that deliver best value for our customers and the environment.

We already publish our Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) data on our website every year, but we’re also going to start publishing our wastewater treatment works compliance data publicly too.

In addition, we’re going one step further by creating an interactive map with near real time updates. This means customers can be better informed about what’s happening with rivers and beaches and can check the last time there were spills in the area before you enter the water. We’ll start by getting our designated bathing waters on the map first, followed by all our other overflows by 2025.

To help customers and stakeholders keep track on what we’re doing, we’ll be reporting back on all our river health initiatives every year.

Working with partners

Partnerships will help us achieve more, that’s why we have been developing partnership with a range of organisations across the region. Sharing expertise, data, and learnings we can improve river quality, among other things, quicker and more effectively.

Our Living with Water and Connected by Water projects are leading the way with how we can engage multiple partners to manage water collectively.  These partnerships focus on flooding and resilience, bringing together local authorities, the Environment Agency and ourselves to help protect communities. Many sustainable nature-based solutions which help protect communities from flooding also improve water quality – managing surface water in different ways reduces spills – so it makes sense to integrate these solutions through partnership working wherever possible.

Partnerships are central to the way we work as rivers do not follow neat geographical or organisational boundaries. An excellent example of this is where we’re investing £6m in our own fish pass projects on Yorkshire rivers, removing barriers to fish migration on our rivers and our assets. However, across the rivers of Yorkshire, the barriers to migration from our industrial past still remain. These barriers are harder challenges to solve, requiring a joint approach with the Environment Agency, The Rivers Trust, regional rivers trusts and other 3rd sector groups. We’re supporting with £1.5m investment to achieve our ambitious shared vision to enable free passage in all of Yorkshire’s rivers, encouraging the return of iconic fish such as the Atlantic salmon. We know this is ambitious, but it is achievable – salmon have already returned to the River Don in Sheffield for the first time in 200 years due to our combined efforts.

We also sponsor five catchment officers in the Aire, Don and Calder catchments as part of our River Resilience fund and we’re helping to unlock £1m in match funding for projects. We’re going to increase the funding we provide to support our partners with river monitoring, river improvement and surface water management schemes. 

We have developed an excellent relationship with the Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency who strongly endorse our partnership approach. We aim to build on this great foundation and are at the start of a strategic partnership with The Rivers Trusts to scrutinise our plans and assure any planned river improvements are beneficial for all parties and are as effective as possible.

We are currently co-designing our plans for beyond 2025, exploring additional co-funding opportunities, and setting more aspirational goals. We believe opening up a further 200km of river fish passage is achievable and through partnership projects (e.g. DNAire, Living Heritage of the River Don) we can deliver a wider range of benefits such as community engagement, recreation, volunteering and training, so we’re able to build greater resilience into the catchments and partnerships.

Our rivers are social amenities, and we want to support in opening up access to disadvantaged communities. We’re scoping out how we can support our partners to encourage communities not currently using our rivers to start doing so for social gain. Communities with local rivers have a wide range of benefits both societally and environmentally. One of the projects we’re already supporting on the River Aire is focused on enhancing community access as well as passage for migratory fish.

We know we have a really engaged group of customers who are keen to play their part in managing surface water. That’s why we’re supporting customers to remove surface water from our network alongside educating them about why this is important. We’re already doing this in Roundhay, Doncaster and Hull.

Protecting and investing in the environment

We know we have a responsibility to care for Yorkshire’s rivers and our network has a big impact on river health and the wildlife that lives in and around them. That’s why we are investing in Yorkshire’s rivers, in fact This AMP sees our biggest investment in river health in over 15 years. By 2025 we’ll have invested over £790m in various ways to improve our rivers across the region.

We’re improving 640km of our rivers through our £500m+ programme to remove phosphorus from our wastewater treatment works over the next few years. Phosphorus is harmful to our rivers as too much of it can cause algal blooms which reduce the oxygen available for aquatic life. After this investment, we’ll have reduced the amount of phosphorus in our treated wastewater by 56% compared to the end of AMP6 2020 baseline phosphorus load in the Aire-Calder, Don-Rother-Dearne and Swale, Ure, Nidd and Ouse catchments.

Over the next few years, we’re also increasing the storm tank capacity at 50 of our wastewater treatment works which will mean we’ll be able to store an average of 29% more stormwater on these sites instead of it being discharged into a watercourse.

We’re also making improvements to 14 overflows that will improve over 24km of river and reduce spills by over 750 hours on average a year. In addition to this, by 2025 we are going to significantly reduce spills on an additional 15 of our most frequently spilling overflows from 2021.

To play our part in improving the water quality at our first riverine bathing water in Ilkley, we’ll be improving the 25km stretch of river above the bathing water site by investing an initial £13m. This includes disinfection at 3 key wastewater treatment works.

This investment not only benefits the designated stretch at Ilkley, as upstream there’s a number of other popular locations for river users such as Bolton Abbey and Grassington and they’ll be benefiting from better water quality too.

We’re improving screening and reducing spills from Rivadale storm overflow which is immediately upstream from the designated bathing water in Ilkley. We know we can’t improve the water quality on our own, and that’s why we’re bringing together the local community and stakeholders so we can work collaboratively in partnership. 

We’re also investing up to £2m to reduce the risk of nitrate pollution at Hornsea Mere which is in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone.

To make sure we’re continuing to invest in our rivers in the right way, we’re thoroughly investigating river health so that we’re making sound decisions on solutions that are based on data and science. This, alongside our extensive customer consultation, will help lead us forward in our decision making

Getting ready for new storm overflow targets

In spring of this year the Government held a consultation regarding their proposed new storm overflow targets. These targets will be included in the Government’s plan to reduce the impacts of storm overflows as part of the Environment Act. The plan will be published in September 2022. The Government’s proposed targets include:

  • By 2050, discharges from storm overflows will only be permitted where water companies can demonstrate that there is no adverse local ecological impact. This would include a requirement to deliver this target for 75% of overflows close to high priority sites by 2035.
  • By 2035, water companies will be required to significantly reduce, or provide disinfection treatment for discharges from storm overflows which discharge into designated bathing waters in order to meet Environment Agency spill standards.
  • By 2050, storm overflows should not discharge above an average of 10 rainfall events a year.

We share the Government’s ambition for a significant reduction in the use and impact of storm overflows. We welcome this new plan, and it is a major step forward in driving the investment that will be required to tackle storm overflows. Read our response to the consultation

The investment driven by these ambitious new targets will completely transform our sewer network. The scale of the investment required means there will be some significant challenges along the way, but we also recognise that many people would like to see us move even faster. That’s why we’re working with Government to understand whether we can bring forward investment in priority areas, like protected sites and bathing waters.