September 28, 2023

Welsh Water downgraded due to sewage contamination by Natural Resources Wales

Discharge into a river

Welsh Water saw a 9% increase in sewage pollution incidents by 2022

Wales’ largest water company has been downgraded for the second year in a row following an increase in pollution incidents.

Welsh Water caused 91 sewage pollution incidents in 2022, five of which were classified as having “major or significant impact”.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) downgraded the company’s rating from three stars to two stars, meaning it “has room for improvement”.

Welsh Water said its “performance isn’t where we want it to be”.

Hywel Morgan, a fly-casting world champion, called the company a “disgrace”.

“They don’t even deserve one star,” he said. “There is not a single river in Wales that is suitable for swimming.

We as fishermen report pollution every week and nothing is being done about it,” he added.

A year ago, Welsh Water was downgraded from an industry-leading four-star rating to a three-star “good business” rating following NRW’s 2021 environmental performance report.

It was after it emerged that the company had caused 83 sewer-related pollution incidents, compared to 77 the previous year.

Brown foam on the banks of the western Cleddau

Brown foam on the Western Cleddau in Pembrokeshire after the failure of a water treatment plant in Wales caused dairy to be spilled

In April, the not-for-profit provider raised its prices to an average bill of £499 a year – the second highest in Wales and England.

NRW’s latest annual overview, published on Wednesday, showed that pollution increased by 9% in 2022 and the number of incidents with a high or significant impact increased from three to five.

Welsh Water also failed to make improvements in the number of incidents self-reported to NRW, to 65%, a 7% drop from 2021.

NRW CEO Clare Pillman called the continued decline in performance “deeply disappointing”.

“Water utilities need to take urgent and sustained action to make the changes needed to address the significant pollution incidents we are seeing in our waters.”

beach with swimmers and surfers

Designated bathing waters at Rest Bay, Porthcawl were closed for nearly four days in 2022 after untreated sewage spilled into the sea

Kim Waters, co-founder of the environmental group the Welsh Rivers Union, said nature in Wales is once again being “put to the test”.

He said regulators are also responsible for not cracking down on water companies sooner.

“We really shouldn’t be in this position,” he said.

“Our rivers in Wales are dying on their feet, and something has to change.

Salmon is released

It is feared that 91% of Welsh rivers are at risk of losing their salmon populations

“Some of these rivers that are literally being destroyed are special protected areas, it is meant to be the most highly protected rivers in the whole country.

“This is an appalling state of affairs, a failing regulation.”

Mr Waters said the recent concern over the potential extinction of wild salmon in Wales’s rivers will happen given the “current trajectory” of pollution.

In a statement, Welsh Water said: “We are working tirelessly to make the improvements needed in challenging conditions, particularly as we experience more severe weather conditions and extreme variations in climate.

“These changes are having a significant and increasing impact on our water and wastewater infrastructure and are challenging the way we deliver our services.

“Although we recorded five major pollution incidents for 2022, compared to three in 2021, we have the second lowest level of total pollution incidents in the water industry, with the number of pollution incidents halved over the last 10 years.

“However, we are sorry for any environmental damage we have caused.”

The company said it planned to invest an additional £100 million to improve river quality by 2025, as part of an £840 million improvement plan.

The NRW report found that another water company, Hafren Dyfrdwy, which operates in parts of Mid and North East Wales, had “performed well in serious pollution incidents with zero serious pollution incidents by 2022” and reduced the total number of pollution incidents from eight to four in 2021.

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