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Hundreds of pipes in Wales ‘could be dumping sewage illegally’, investigation finds

29 Aug 2022 3 minute read
The River Ely. Photo by Dai Lygad is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Welsh Water has nearly two hundred discharge pipes across Wales which are potentially illegally dumping raw sewage into the country’s waterways, an investigation has found.

Using Environmental Information Regulation requests, Channel 4’s Dispatches programme found that Welsh Water has 184 sewage discharge pipes without permits, all of which are said to be in use.

Except in very limited circumstances, permits are required for firms to spill untreated sewage into rivers and seas during periods of high rainfall, to prevent sewers becoming overloaded and backing up into homes.

However, Welsh Water told the PA news agency it would be “fundamentally incorrect and simply untrue” to say it was “deliberately operating these assets illegally”.

The firm said the unpermitted Combined Storm Overflows (CSOs) were pinpointed following a detailed review which identified previously unknown assets from before the water industry was privatised.

It is working to secure the appropriate permits “as quickly as possible” and noted: “If these CSOs were prevented from operating during the permitting process, it would result in homes, schools and businesses flooding during heavy rain.”

The programmes also found that Severn Trent has 420 pipes without permits, although it said the company failed to specify how many were in operation.

The firm claimed Dispatches’ interpretation of the data was “not accurate” and said that permits can be “at varying stages of an administration process”.

Whistleblower

There are more than 870 pipes across the UK which could be operating without permits, of which upwards of 200 are confirmed by water companies to be in use, according to Dispatches.

A whistleblower told the investigation that water companies are being left to investigate their own incidents as Environment Agency funds have been slashed.

Helen Nightingale, who has recently retired from the agency after 30 years, said: “The funding’s been cut massively… so we have fewer officers to go out and do the work.

“We are only supposed to attend the very serious or quite serious incidents. The lower impact incidents… environment officers are told not to attend them.

“We aren’t as aggressive. We don’t enforce to the same extent against water companies. Now water companies investigate their own incidents and tell us what category it is.”

It follows claims from Labour earlier this week that Liz Truss presided over “efficiency savings” during her time as environment secretary that significantly slashed funding for the Environment Agency and resulted in “doubled sewage discharge”.

The party’s analysis of official figures showed that between 2016 – when the Tory leadership frontrunner was in charge of Defra – and 2021, raw sewage discharge more than doubled, from 14.7 per overflow to 29.3.

This coincided with Ms Truss cutting £80 million of sewage monitors as part of a £235 million Tory axe to the Environment Agency’s budget.

As environment secretary, Ms Truss justified the cuts saying “there are ways we can make savings as a department” citing better use of technology and inter-agency working.

Dispatches said it was told by Severn Trent, Northumbrian Water and Welsh Water that the companies are working proactively with the Environment Agency to ensure the correct permits are in place for all storm overflows.

The Environment Agency told the programme: “Water companies have rightly been condemned for allowing far too many sewage spills and we are holding the industry to account on an unprecedented scale.”


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

So that’s a yes then?…

One of the two witnesses
One of the two witnesses
1 month ago

What it would have been worthwhile noting (just to keep the BritNat trolls at bay) is that this programmes reveals all / most Water Authorities are doing this. Not just Dŵr Cymru.
It’s wrong, definitely. But it’s all of them.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

You are right they are all at it. The sick bit about our Dwr Cymru is that it has traded for decades under the “not for profit” false flag while exec Directors and non execs have enjoyed eye watering salaries and their linked institutions, accountants etc have creamed off juicy fees. Just another variant on the objectionable fat cat model of business. Suck out the juice and leave the crap to someone else, literally. Except now they are getting found out just like those other corporates creaming off our utilities.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

The cat’s out of the bag now, be your own stretch of river bailiff and get on their case…

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Perhaps, if Water comes under the remit of the Senedd, it is time to change the way that the ‘top’ of Dwr Cymru is managed. Having read details of how the Membership of the organisation is recruited there looks to be loads of scope for the recruitment of only people who can be described as Thatcher put it so succinctly, “One of us”. In addition It seem incredible that directors should receive bonuses while allowing large scale dumping of untreated waste into rivers. Surely one gets a bonus for doing one’s job better than expected. These men (I presume they… Read more »

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
1 month ago

If all these water companies and industrial units have such a problem with river pollution, why do these environmental organizations and charities keep attacking individual farmers and leave these multi million pound legally savvy companies alone?

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
1 month ago

There is a big difference in a CSO discharging surface water when it rains and a farmer emptying his slurry pit into a river. Neither is a good thing but the farmer does it purely out of greed and it is a thousand times more harmful.
The problem with surface water run-off causing flooding is that foul water sewage automatically comes up and pollutes wide areas. If that can be avoided by allowing the run-off into rivers it is the lesser evil.

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
1 month ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

No farmer I know would deliberately empty their slurry pit into a river, But I think you’re missing the point I was trying to make.

Gwilym P
Gwilym P
1 month ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

With fertilizer selling for £800 a tonne ,no farmer in his right mind would deliberately empty his slurry store into the river. The vast majority of agri pollution episodes are accidental or runoff from badly timed slurry applications. These water companies deliberately pour raw sewage into the sea and rivers because they have not invested in proper sewage treatment equipment, and should be fined accordingly, as should any farmer that is found to have polluted a water course because of a lack of investment in slurry equipment. I cannot see how you can deem a farmer greedy when he pollutes… Read more »

Argol fawr!
Argol fawr!
1 month ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

The first flush of storm flows out of a CSO is as potent if not worse than the raw sewage entering (and too often leaving) a works. It’s what’s settled in the sewers over a dry period.

While discharging farm slurry is indefensible, so is painting a pretty picture of Dwr Cymru I guess.

Glen
Glen
1 month ago

Untreated sewage is generally a problem in urban rivers while agricultural pollution is a rural issue.

They both result in a filthy river.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
1 month ago

Cos they have shares in the Crunchy Cricket factory?

Glen
Glen
1 month ago

Anglers and surfers have been going on about this for years, but until Fergal Sharkey used his fame to publicise it the media took no interest.
The question is why has NRW and the EA before that been allowing Dwr Cymru to get away with it?

Jonathan Dean
Jonathan Dean
1 month ago

Why are NRW not prosecuting?

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