WATER companies are facing a major investigation after checks revealed that some firms may be releasing unpermitted sewage into rivers and watercourses.

The probe, by the Environment Agency (EA) and the water regulator, Ofwat, will involve more than 2,000 sewage treatment works, and any company caught breaching its permits could be handed fines or prosecuted.

The national investigation was launched after the two bodies said several water companies admitted many of their sewage treatment works may not be compliant.

The Ilkley Clean River Campaign hosted a visit by the Ofwat chairman Jonson Cox and chief executive David Black this summer to learn more about concerns about persistent pollution incidents in the River Wharfe in Ilkley and last week received a letter from David Black, informing the them of the national investigation into water companies compliance.

Professor Becky Malby, of the Ilkley Clean River Group said: “Ilkley’s campaign to clean up our river, which has shone a focus on excessive pollution has been a major part of securing this national investigation.

“David Black in his letter to us says: ‘In June, I wrote to water and wastewater companies setting out the need to improve performance on the use of storm overflows. I am concerned that companies have not acted on this.’ This was after his visit to Ilkley. He goes on to say: ‘I also reiterated our clear expectations that environmental performance and compliance with obligations should be taken into account by companies when deciding on paying out dividends or executive bonuses. I want to assure you that if we find that companies are in breach of any obligation, which we enforce, we will take robust action to hold them to account’.”

Professor Malby added: “The campaign to clean up our river has been part of a national groundswell of outrage by the public that our rivers are being treated as open sewers. We are now working with Yorkshire Water, with the intent to secure a plan for Ilkley that restricts pollution to extreme weather conditions only.

“We are also waiting for a review of the consent (the amount of water inflow that allows Yorkshire Water to discharge raw sewage into the Wharfe) by the Environment Agency which we have been promised by the end of the year.

“It is almost one year since we achieved bathing status for the town to secure regular testing and three years since we started campaigning. This week feels like we have turned the corner to a river fit for people and wildlife.”