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Campaigners reveal ‘shocking’ E.coli levels in River Usk

19 Aug 2023 4 minute read
Photo by Dave Roberts is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Campaigners have revealed E.coli levels in the River Usk are nearly 300 times higher than minimum bathing standards.

Citizen scientists from Save The River Usk uncovered the disturbingly high levels of the bacteria E.coli from samples taken from the effluent discharge of the Brecon and Usk Sewage Treatment Works.

The tests which were taken last week and sent to a laboratory for analysis, revealed 34,500 cfu/100ml at Usk Sewage Treatment outfall.

Laboratory Result at Brecon Sewage Treatment outfall were 242,000 cfu/100ml. The cfu is the colony forming units of live E.coli bacteria.

Minimum bathing status is 900 cfu and 500 cfu is considered good quality river water.


Angela Jones, chairperson of the group said: “Save The River Usk is deeply alarmed by these findings, which highlight the urgent need for immediate action to address the sewage pollution affecting our beloved River Usk.

“The River Usk does not have any areas classified as bathing status, Natural Resources Wales the regulator does not conduct routine E.coli testing.

“Natural Resources Wales sets the standards for sewage treatment through permits.

“The public will probably be surprised to hear these permits do not have any requirement to remove these harmful bacteria.

“Save The River Usk has operated for eighteen months conducting testing on the River from Sennybridge to Newbridge on Usk, they have highlighted the shocking levels of phosphate that is discharged into the River Usk from sewage treatment works and are now highlighting shocking levels of E.Coli.

“What else are the sewage treatment works discharging into our river?”

The River Usk is designated as an SAC (Special Area of Conservation) one of nine in Wales but Save the River Usk says it is one of the most polluted, with 88% of its 78 mile length failing phosphate targets.

In response National Resources Wales said: “There are no designated inland bathing waters on the river Usk and therefore NRW does not sample for E coli.

“It is possible that the water company do this themselves as part of their Urban Waste Water Directive monitoring.

“There are pilot studies being conducted by NRW looking at possible inland bathing areas however these are not located on the Usk.

Poor water quality

Jenny Phillips, Environment team leader for NRW added: “We share the wider public concern over the state of our rivers and are actively working with key stakeholders on addressing the causes of poor water quality.

“The pressures upon our rivers are great. Climate change, declining biodiversity, and the way we all live today are all real challenges to the health of our rivers, and the Usk is no different. As an organisation, we’re doing everything we can within the resources and legal powers that we have at our disposal to improve water quality.

“We are already working in partnership through Nutrient Management Boards to address phosphate pollution and work to achieve the conservation objectives of our precious SAC rivers for the long term.

“We are also working on the actions set out in the First Minister’s Action Plan which sets out clear actions, timescales, and responsibilities to tackle phosphorus pollution in SAC river catchments and address planning constraints.

“As part of our drive to reduce and manage phosphorus levels, we are reviewing the permits of larger discharges (20m3/day or more) that contain phosphorous, to ensure water companies play their part in driving the reduction in phosphorus levels required to avoid deterioration.

“Through our wider work on the Wales Better River Quality Taskforce we are assessing the performance of overflows and tightening our regulation.

“We are using the evidence and data we have to oversee vital improvements and investments made by the water companies in those overflows causing environmental damage or not operating to the required standards.”

“Our flagship Four Rivers for LIFE project is also underway delivering improvements on the ground to help restore the Usk to favourable condition.”

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago

There should be a law against this, one that locks people up…

8 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Its possibly within the jurisdiction of our devolved government but they choose to ignore it because it’s not directly attributable to farmers. Townies’ effluent get a free pass.

8 months ago

They do not conduct testing cos no designated areas for bathing? Come on NRW, start testing, pin down the sources of pollution and out them.

Bachgen o Lerpwl
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

If they can’t blame Westminster what’s the point of testing. Is that it?

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