Here’s a short horror story: Imagine there is a sewer buried beneath your back garden. There’s a big metal cover on a concrete base, under which the dire stuff flows…away. And hopefully you never see it. But then, one day, you do – because it’s become a blocked sewer.

Since 2006, FIMP reader Pauline Barber has had a problem with the sewer running beneath her back garden. Or, rather, she’s had a problem with Yorkshire Water, the utility company in charge of it. There is a blockage inside the pipe, and every time it rains, the sewer floods. Raw sewage comes bursting out from beneath the cover, running down the garden and into the pond – which became a death-zone ages ago – then out of the pond and on down the slope…straight into the river Wharfe.

You might think that a call Yorkshire Water explaining the extent of the problem would get speedy results. After all, this is the UK: we don’t allow raw sewage to erupt in suburban gardens without doing something about it, do we? And we certainly don’t allow it to run directly into a river, do we?

Well, maybe we do. Otherwise the problem wouldn’t have gone on for 6 years.

sewage leak, image

Surely, this kind of problem can’t happen in the UK – and keep going for 6 years?

For example, despite it being a dry day on May 7 this year (a Monday) the sewer flooded overnight. By the next morning, the pond below it had overflowed and raw sewage was spreading under the garden fence to the adjacent property. Below the pond, it was running down the slope directly into the river.

Tuesday 8th
Pauline phoned Yorkshire Water to advise them of the situation and requested immediate attention. Yorkshire Water called back, promising to send a contractor out. The contractor duly arrived and attempted to clear the blockage – however, after puncturing the pond liner with his hose, the pump failed. So, he left. Another contractor was promised the following day (Wednesday).

Wednesday 9th
Nobody came. Pauline noted that there was still a generous layer of raw sewage on the lawn, and that the smell was awful. She decided she couldn’t put the washing out.

Thursday 10th
Nobody came, again.

Friday 11th
The contractors finally arrived. They pumped out the sewer – but did nothing to clear up the sewage left behind by the overflow on Monday.

Finally, on the 16th, contractors arrived to clear the remaining sewage from the site.

None of the above fixed the problem, which is a blockage inside the sewer itself. All that was achieved was some temporary relief from the symptoms. Pauline was told that there was no money available for ‘outdoor flooding’, and so the sewer couldn’t be fixed.

And so the saga continued – through June, July, August and into September. By August 21st, pumping out the (overflowing) sewer become almost a daily event, each one resulting in between one and three truckloads of sewage being removed. Even though this process took several hours every time, still nothing was done to address the actual cause, i.e. a major blockage somewhere in the sewer. To make matters worse, the jet hose that was being used to blast a way through the blockage broke off and became stuck in the sewer on August 30th. After that, all efforts were to recover the jet hose. Clearing a path through the blockage, even temporarily, become of secondary concern – while actually fixing it wasn’t even mentioned.

During this period, contractors were regularly sent to pump out the sewer. On one occasion they arrived at Pauline’s property and sat in their van for 15 minutes. Then they did a bit of work before leaving again, saying that the tanker was full – but only after another 15-minute sit in the van. Cigarette ends scattered in Pauline’s garden and an open gate (despite them being asked to leave it closed behind them) were the only signs of their visit.

Finally, on September 11th, Yorkshire Water announced that they had located the money to repair the sewer in the immediate area. The scheme covers ‘loss of service’ instances – aside from which they wanted to retrieve the jet! As there is another blockage further down – identified by earlier visits – the problem is unlikely to completely go away – but it might move far enough to enable Pauline to begin enjoying her garden again.

Currently, a compressor sits in front of Pauline’s house, running almost all the time to keep the sewer pumped out. The neighbours now complain about the noise – to Pauline! Hopefully the situation that has been ongoing for 6 years will soon be resolved.

Pauline retired some time ago and would like to sell her house and move – but can’t until this is completely resolved. Aside from the layer of sewage in her garden, the smell and the flies make it impossible. Neighbours have small children, and many locals – parents and children – bathe in the river Wharfe. Infections from e-coli, hepatitis and leptospirosis are surely just a matter of time. Pauline’s sister did become sick after sitting in her back garden to drink a cup of tea – which is so infested with flies that no windows can be left open, even in hot weather.

mark cartoon, image

Mark says…

“If you are dealing with an ongoing problem with a utility company, it can be very difficult to get resolution. Even writing to your MP, or the local branch of Environmental Agency, may not help very much. Pauline tried both these, with little effect. Other resources such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, much as they’d like to assist, often don’t know very much more than you and sometimes give incorrect advice.

“It would seem that, despite our belief to the contrary, the laws of the land don’t work in times of economic downturn. And we have it better then most.”

Andy says...

Andy says…

“And bear in mind that this is the same Environment Agency who are so keen to throw the book at septic tank owners who have even a small leak. This story should horrify anyone who grows their own food. Have any of you had experiences with pollution on your own property?”

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