During the 1980s the river even ran yellow in certain parts of the city, and was unable to ‘sustain plant or animal life of any kind’ for decades.
This however was an improvement on the state of the river during most of the 19th century, when raw sewage was discharged straight into the river.
It was not until the Meadowland treatment works site was opened in 1886, costing the council £23,933 - or £1.4million in today’s money - that the River Don’s first major clean-up operation began.
And now thanks to a £78million clean-up project at the Blackburn Meadows waste water treatment works near Meadowhall the River Don is finally clean enough for salmon to be welcomed back into its waters for the first time in over 200 years.
Yorkshire Water Project Manager, Stefan Schmid, said: “Salmon can only exist in the very cleanest waters.
“The project on the Blackburn Meadows plant started in 2013, and is the biggest project Yorkshire Water has undertaken in over five years.
“We’re about to reintroduce salmon into the River Don and are building ‘fish streams’ on the river, which have a lighter and current will make it possible for salmon to swim up from weirs.
“They will almost be like fish superhighways.
“We will begin to introduce them and we will hope that by 2020 we will see them swimming up stream to the city and breeding.
“All we can do is introduce them, but we’re hopeful that by that time we will begin to see results.
“Before the River Don was unable to sustain plant or animal life of any kind, so the progress that has been made is very significant.”
He adds that following the completion of the project, which took around three years, the River Don is now ‘environmental asset’ that people and animals alike can enjoy.
He said: “People can now make the most of the River Don.
“It’s not quite clean enough to drink from straight from the river, but it’s some of the cleanest water in Yorkshire.
“Blackburn Meadows is one of Yorkshire Water’s flagship projects and we’re very proud of it.”
The quality of water in the River Don has also been improved by spending more than £40m on high-tech waste water treatment processes – resulting in the reduction of ammonia levels to meet the EU Fresh Water Fish Directive
Water quality in the river is now believed to be better than at any point since the Industrial Revolution.
And following this the Don Catchment Rivers Trust has launched the £1.4million Heritage of the River Don, which involves work in the river to encourage the once prolific salmon to return to the River Don.
Karen Eynon, of the Don Catchment River Trust, said:
“It is a fantastic project.
“Salmon are the top predator in the water so if the conditions are right for them to return then that means the food chain below is all good.
“If there’s salmon in the water then that encourages otters.
“We’ve had some sightings already.”
Karen’s work with the river trust also involves trying to encourage people to appreciate rivers in Sheffield.
And as part of that the project, which has received £1.2million in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund a long-distance heritage trail is due to be built from Doncaster to Sheffield.
It is hoped that this will provide opportunities for people and communities to learn from the heritage that surrounds them, helping to develop new skills and interact with their heritage in new ways.
The rest of the £2 million of funding from the project has come from the Wild Trout Trust, Associated British Ports, the Environment Agency, Northern Rail, Gripple, and Biffa Award.
Commenting on the project, Karen added: “The water quality of the Don is the best it has been in decades and will certainly be able to sustain Salmon.
“However, sections of the riverside paths do get a lot of litter and graffiti, and we want to rectify this not just from an environmental point of view, but so that people feel able to enjoy the river.
“During our project development many people told us they don’t like visiting some sections of the Don, and we want to restore a sense of pride.
Volunteer work days on the river are taking place on a regular basis with the next two concentrating on the area around Hexthorpe Flatts in Doncaster on June 7 between 6pm-8pm and June 11 1pm -4pm. People taking part meet in Hexthorpe Flatts Park.
All equipment will be provided.
The Plant’s History
* Blackburn Meadow was Sheffield’s first treatment works and was opened in 1886. * The site underwent large improvements between 1905 and 1912 where preliminary treatment units were added along with storm tanks, becoming a pioneering sewage works * In 1958 Sheffield’s own John Haworth developed the Bio-Aeration plant which saw vast
improvements to waste water treatment – this system quickly became known as the ‘Sheffield System’ attracting visitors from across the world. * In 2007 some of the region’s worst floods inundated the site leading to prolific damage to its ability to treat waste water - it took two years to fully recover.