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Calls for water companies to ‘clean up their act’ over discharge of sewage into Welsh waters

06 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Campaigners pictures on Rhosneigr beach last year. Photo ImageNorth West Wales Climate Action Group

Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter

Climate change protesters are calling for water companies to ‘clean up their act’ over the discharge of sewage into Welsh waters.

According to the North West Wales Climate Action Group Welsh beaches and rivers were “subject to hundreds of thousands of hours of sewage discharge, in 2022”.

It has organised public an on-line meeting inviting speakers from groups such as Dŵr Cymru, North Wales Wildlife Trust and Surfers against Sewage to speak on the issue.

Protesters have called on the Welsh Government to regulate the discharge of raw sewage into waterways and beaches and highlights bathing risks.

The group claims that 66% rivers in Wales “do not meet good ecological standards.”

The Welsh Government highlights “44% of Wales’ rivers achieving a ‘good’ or better overall status under the Water Framework Directive, with the latest results 8% higher than the first classifications in 2009.”

Excellent water quality

It says Wales is also “recognised internationally as having some of the best beaches with excellent water quality in Europe”.

It points to Anglesey and Gwynedd, where all 32 bathing waters met stringent bathing quality standards last year, with 27 of them achieving the highest classification of ‘excellent’.

It also felt that the the group’s statistics moved between English and Welsh figures, without specifying or identifying organisations or sources.

Protesters have described water pollution as “putting users at risk of contracting harmful illnesses, and sewage damaging natural river and ocean ecosystems and habitats.”

“Climate change will increase rainfall and flooding, impacting water companies’ management of sewage and runoff,” they state.

In August, 2023 a protest was held on Rhosneigr Beach on Anglesey to highlight issues. Rhosneigr itself has maintained water quality of ‘excellent’ since 2019, according to Dŵr Cymru.

Sewage

But sewage is among “the top five sources” of bathing water pollution across Wales according to National Resources Wales’s website.

Other causes include farm manure run-off, bird and animal faeces on beaches, domestic sewage, urban area water drainage after heavy rain, badly connected drains and poorly located and maintained septic tanks.

It said: “Bacteria from sewage can enter our waters as a result of system failures or overflows or directly from sewage works.”

However it did note that bathing water quality in Wales had improved “significantly over the past two decades”.

In results of 2023 sampling and analysis, of water quality at designated bathing water sites in Wales against the Bathing Water Regulations, the majority of Welsh sites scored “excellent” during e coli testing.

Among ‘excellent’ ratings were Harlech, Aberdyfi, Abersoch, Barmouth, Benllech, Church Bay, Colwyn Bay Porth Eiras and Fairbourne and Rhosneigr.

Standards falling from ‘excellent’ to ‘good’- included Llanddona, Aberdyfi and Llandudno West Shore.

Abergele( Pensarn) had improved from ‘sufficient’ to ‘good’, Aberystwyth North had maintained its ‘good status’ as had Rhyl East, and Traeth Lligwy.

Cemaes and Llandudno North Shore had droppped from ‘good’ to ‘sufficient’ and Criccieth had remained at just ‘sufficient’.

The Marine Lake at Rhyl had improved from ‘poor’ to ‘sufficent’ and Rhyl had only maintained a rating of ‘sufficent’.

Combined sewers

The protest group, say much of Wales is serviced by ‘combined sewers’ where waste-water from homes and businesses, and surface water, such as the run-off from roads, goes into one sewer system. This is taken to a waste treatment works where it is cleaned and returned to the environment.

But they claim: “during heavy rainfall, excess flow is released, untreated, into the environment. As the climate changes, and heavy rainfall and storm events become more frequent, this is likely to happen more and more often.”

Penmachno ecologist Gemma Baron, 39, a mum of one, said, “Beaches and rivers are beautiful places essential for people and nature to thrive. This situation is not good for anyone. As a mum of a young child I am very aware of the issues. These are the places we swim, paddle, fish, surf and play, and yet they are being polluted and destroyed every day.

“We want the government and water companies to clean up their act. “

A spokesperson for Dŵr Cymru said: “We have an important role to play in helping protect bathing water quality and we are pleased that the investment we have made in our wastewater system has helped improve coastal waters around Wales. Rhosneigr for example has seen its bathing water quality reach the highest ‘excellent’ standard every year since 2019.

“Water quality is impacted by a large number of factors, of which storm overflows play a small part. We will continue to work with other organisations and partners to ensure the excellent water quality is maintained.

“We welcome the opportunity to present at the meeting to explain all the work we have done and still plan to do to help protect bathing water quality.”

Improvements 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We welcome action from groups wanting to identify issues with water quality as this helps us address concerns as a government. We have been clear that all water companies operating in Wales must deliver excellent services and we will to continue to work together to deliver further improvements for people and for our environment.”

A spokesperson for Natural Resources Wales said: “We are entirely committed to protecting and improving the quality of our coastal waters and rivers for both people and nature. Each year a tremendous amount of unseen work takes place to tackle sources of pollution which could impact on the quality of our bathing waters.

“Both regulators, Ofwat and NRW, have been clear that the current use of storm overflow discharges is unacceptable and needs to change.

“We understand the concern of many across Wales that overflows are operating too frequently and we are taking steps to ensure our regulation of overflows responds to the needs of the environment and public.

“We continue to challenge water companies to improve their performance across all assets, to ensure overflows are properly controlled.

“Part of this work includes the tightening of our regulation and through our work on the Wales Better River Quality Taskforce.

“We are also overseeing a programme of investment of £20m by the water companies to further reduce the impact of storm overflows.”

To join the online public meeting being held on Thursday, March 7, 2024, at 7pm, register at: https://xrb.link/x93EJA9VT or visit North West Wales Climate Action Group Facebook page.


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Mab Meirion
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