By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Councillors in Leeds are expected to call for stricter penalties for the leaking of sewage into the River Aire, when they debate the issue next week.
Water firms across the UK, as well as the government, have come under fire in recent weeks amid a huge rise in the amount of sewage leaking into waterways since 2016.
The issue has been blamed on a lack of capacity in the sewerage system to cope with heavy rainfall.
But Parliament voted against introducing stricter regulations last year.
Councillor Peter Carlill (Lab, Calverley & Farsley), who is introducing a debate on the issue at a full council meeting next Wednesday, said water company bosses needed to be held accountable for the “disgraceful” practice.
Yorkshire Water said it was investing millions in an effort to tackle the problem.
Councillor Carlill said: “This is something that’s supposed to happen once in a blue moon, when there’s a catastrophic weather event, such as the Boxing Day floods (which hit Leeds in 2015) for example.
“But the reality is it’s happening all the time now.
“Unfortunately it’s something that’s becoming more and more frequent because restrictions on it have been reduced by the government rather than improved.”
Councillor Carlill said the leaks were also affecting animals at Rodley Nature Reserve, in his west Leeds ward and that the issue was “undermining” the council’s climate emergency.
Asked about possible solutions to the problem, Coun Carlill added: “It’s about the investment the water companies are putting into their infrastructure to make sure it can cope with the amount of use it has to go through.
“The government however seems more intent on loosening the regulations and deterring that investment.
“We also need a proper public debate about it, because I think so many people aren’t actually aware of it.
In response, a spokesperson for Yorkshire Water said: “We completely understand the increased public interest in river quality in our region.
“It is an issue that must be addressed by a range of agencies working together. We recently announced an additional £180m investment in storm overflows, taking our total investment in river water quality in the five years 2020-2025 to almost £1bn, indicating our commitment to improving water quality in Yorkshire’s rivers.
“Water companies have a key role to play in improving water quality, but our investment alone will not achieve good ecological status for rivers. Co-ordinated action is needed by farmers, local authorities, businesses and local people with the ultimate aim of improving water quality.”
Activist group Plastic Free North West Leeds staged a protest against sewage pollution at Rodley on October 22, and erected a plaque criticising Pudsey Conservative MP Stuart Andrew over a controversial vote on the dumping of raw sewage into seas and rivers.
It is no good calling for increased penalties if the environment agency don’t have the resources to prosecute. I believe that much more would be gained by pressing the government to properly fund the environment agency enabling them to do their job.