RAW sewage was pumped into Barnsley’s rivers for more than 550 days last year, new figures have revealed.
Storm overflows normally happen when the sewage system is at risk of being overwhelmed - such as after a heavy rain, or during higher levels of groundwater.
In these cases, water companies may need to release excess water and sewage into rivers and the sea, to prevent water backing up into the streets and people’s homes.
This has an impact on the quality of our natural water sources, with some charities alleging storm overflows are being misused and under-reported.
Figures from the Environment Agency show storm overflows were used 2,715 times within Barnsley’s local authority boundaries in 2022, discharging for a total of around 13,228 hours.
That’s the equivalent of a total of 551 days.
All of these spills were from Yorkshire Water’s network - but despite the huge figures, it’s believed they could be even higher.
This is due to overspills from areas Barnsley shares water sources with.
The Rivers Trust said it was particularly concerned by storm overflows being used during hot periods - a risk as England faces a heatwave this week.
Tessa Wardley, director of communications and advocacy at the charity, said: “Discharging untreated sewage in dry weather is bad for both human health and river health - lower river flows mean more concentrated pollutants at a time when more people want to enjoy their rivers.
“Although a problem in their own right, these discharges are also the ‘canary in the coalmine’ pointing to greater problems in our sewerage and river systems.
“This could be blockages in the system, groundwater seeping into broken pipes, misconnections, or just poor management choices.”
She urged ‘robust, urgent action’ on sewage and river management to help tackle the climate crisis and threats to biodiversity.
Yorkshire Water saw 54,273 overspills across its network in 2022, with 95 per cent of the company’s facilities reporting overspill data last year.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis has also urged the government to take action.
He added: “Water is not just another commodity, it’s a vital public resource.
“The task to reform the water industry, is huge, and we have to get it right.
“This is not some operational issue solved by small tweaks to the failing system.
“It’s a systemic problem requiring transformative action.”
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said the amount of sewage pumped into rivers is ‘utterly unacceptable’, adding the government has a plan to tackle pollution.
She said: “Targets set by the government to reduce storm overflows are very strict and are leading to the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £56bn over the next 25 years.
“Shortly, water companies will also publish action plans for every storm overflow in England, something the Environment Secretary has personally pressed for.”