Storm overflows dumped sewage into rivers in York for more than 17,000 hours in 2023, more than double the previous year's figure, it has been revealed.

One city council environment chief branded the figure "shocking" and called for greater investment to tackle the problem.

And Yorkshire Water said the figure was "disappointing", but blamed the wet weather last year, which included 11 named storms.

The latest data, published by the Environment Agency on March 27, reveals the extent of storm overflows - where sewage is pumped into waterways to stop it backing up into homes - in York last year. 

Sites where storm overflows can be carried out are fitted with event duration monitors (EDMs) - which measure the number of storm overflow events, and their duration - which is measured in hours.

So how much was recorded in York?

The Environment Agency figures reveal that in 2023 - within the boundaries of York's outer ring road - sewage was dumped into waterways for 17,643.5 hours - an increase of 103.6 per cent compared to 2022. 

The Environment Agency data also reveals that 1,232 storm overflow events - or sewage spills - occurred at all sites within the ring road in 2023 - a hike of 57.7 per cent on 2022.


City of York Council's joint executive member for environment and climate emergency, Cllr Jenny Kent, said: "Yorkshire Water says we can’t have the alternative of sewage backing up into people’s homes but this isn’t a binary decision; neither outcome is remotely acceptable from a public health perspective. 

"This latest data is shocking and shows the level of investment being made to tackle sewage discharge into rivers isn’t anywhere near enough. The changing climate means responsible bodies like Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency must respond accordingly, and that also means greater prioritisation from the Government."

Across the country, data for 2023 shows a 54 per cent increase in the number of sewage spills compared to 2022.

A Yorkshire Water spokesperson said: "We are committed to improving our region’s rivers and were disappointed about the number of discharges in 2023. This increase is due to the wet weather experienced in the twelve-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.

York Press: Storms over the winter period include Storm Babet, Jocelyn, and DebiStorms over the winter period include Storm Babet, Jocelyn, and Debi (Image: Newsquest)

"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. 

"Nevertheless, we know there is more to do, and we are making headway with a £180 million programme to reduce discharges across the region by April 2025. Work is in progress on 62 projects that will reduce discharges from some of the most frequently operating overflows, with more to follow later in the year.

"This is just the start of a long-term programme to reduce the impact of wastewater on the region’s watercourses and we have submitted plans to Ofwat that outline a further £1.19bn investment in overflow reduction between 2025 and 2030.

"It’s not good enough simply to say water companies are responsible – we know they are but they’re overseeing a deterioration in river quality and that trend must be urgently reversed."

York Green Party spokesman Andy D'Agorne said: "Greens would end this failed experiment in privatisation, bringing the water companies back into public control so we can clean up this industry.

The UK Government's flooding Minister, and MP for Keighley, Robbie Moore, also called the nationwide surge in storm overflows "unacceptable".