Yorkshire Water has been fined £10,000 after around 1,000 fish were killed when sewage from a treatment plant was discharged into a West Yorkshire beck.


The company was charged with breaching its Consent to Discharge when sewage from South Elmsall Sewage Treatment Works discharged into Hemsworth Beck near South Elmsall on August 15, 2005.


Yorkshire Water Services Ltd, based in Halifax Road, Bradford, admitted the allegation before Pontefract magistrates today (6/9/06) and was ordered to pay £3,043.80 costs.


Trevor Cooper, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said that Yorkshire Water had a consent to discharge untreated sewage from the plant into the beck only at times of very high rainfall, when the high volume of water would dilute the pollution.


However, the Environment Agency received a report on August 15, 2005 that there were dead fish in Hemsworth Beck. An officer inspected it and found the beck was grey and smelling of sewage.


Mr Cooper told the court that there had been no heavy rainfall during the week so there should not have been any discharge to the beck.


Around 1,000 fish were killed which included six species of fish along a 2.95 kilometre stretch of the beck. The fish were wiped out along the worst affected stretch, and hundreds of eels were also killed.


Magistrates heard that the estimated cost of restocking and monitoring the area will be around £17,500 over the next four years. Environment Agency officers will have to wait until the beck’s invertebrates sufficiently recover in numbers for the restocked fish to feed off.


In its defence, Yorkshire Water said it had been aware of a problem with its computer control system. Although the equipment was reset, no one checked that it was all working properly.


In sentencing, the magistrates took into account that the company had agreed to pay the costs of the beck’s restocking and monitoring programme. When summarising the case, magistrates said the incident was avoidable and so a fine of £10,000 was justified.


After the court case Environment Agency officer Louis Harvey said: “The incident had a major impact on the beck, which not only decimated the fish population but also killed around 500 eels. This is particularly alarming because the number of eels has been plummeting nationally.


“A lot of work has been done to clean up West Yorkshire’s waterways and it is devastating when pollution kills the health of a stream, and affects people’s enjoyment of their local environment.”