MPs told Natural Resources Wales is not fit for purpose
Welsh MPs have been told that Natural Resources Wales is not fit for purpose and that Llandudno saw the largest amount of sewage dumps into the sea by Dŵr Cymru than anywhere else in Wales during 2022.
Giving evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons today (8 January) were Gail Davies-Walsh, Chief Executive, Afonydd Cymru; Jon Khoo, Chair of Surfers against Sewage and Angela Jones who has led a 30 year campaign to save the River Wye from polluters.
Committee Chair Stephen Crabb MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire kicked off the session on water quality by asking how bad is the situation in Wales?
Gail Davies-Walsh of Afonydd Cymru said: “My summary at the minute is that Welsh rivers are in a very poor state in terms of water quality.
“Five of our nine Special Areas of Conservation designated rivers are failing for phosphorous and excessive nutrients.
“32% of all rivers in Wales fail for phosphorous and only 40% meet their good ecological status. Sewer overflows play a very important part of the impact to our river quality. Over the last two years the data for Wales has shown that currently around 100,000 spills per annum goes into our rivers.”
Equally, in terms of data from water companies, Jon Khoo of Surfers against Sewage told Welsh MPs:
“In 2022 the largest number of (sewage) spills was in Llandudno, which is a very popular tourist destination – there were 37 spills. If we think that clean water is a human right and also the connections of our communities with nature, then it’s a very significant issue and a problem.”
Committee Chair Mr Crabb asked whether there are fewer problems in the seas around the Welsh coast than in our rivers?
To which Mr Koo replied: “The nature of the problems is different, but the reality is that the pollution is pretty equal. From the coastal side it’s mainly from effluent and sewage coming from our towns.”
The River Wye is 134 miles long and stretches along the border between Wales and England.
Mr Crab asked Campaigner Angela Jones: “You’ve done a lot of strong work in this area. Are Welsh rivers clean to swim in?”
Ms Jones replied that after 40 years of being in – and on – the river, “In the last six years there’s been a huge decline – it’s been diabolical.
“I’ve witnessed it first hand the untreated sewage coming in. The Wye River is a cross border river so we’ve got a huge problem with (intensive) poultry (farms) in the Wye that is decimating the whole eco system.”
Miss Jones is one of over 340 citizen science volunteers who regularly monitor the water quality of both the rivers Wye and Usk (which runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park).
She said that the evidence gathered, “Clearly shows those pollution hotspots – I know of every combined storm outlet on the Wye and the Usk.
“I know every intensive poultry unit and I know when they muck spread. In certain sections I won’t even touch the river and (during) the summer months the green algae was so dangerous I told everybody to stay out of the river.”
Natural Resources Wales (NRW)
Surfers against Sewage give our regular alerts when water companies discharge sewage from storm overflows, commented Mr Crabb.
He said that sometimes constituencies alert politicians like him following these alerts. They also report to him when certain bathing waters aren’t safe.
“When I raise this with (regulators) Natural Resources Wales they say the water quality is ok it’s not a threat to health. Do you disagree with the regulators?”
Mr Koo said he found the “disconnect troubling” and added, “we are hearing from our citizens in our communities that they are getting sick (and are off work) – it’s happening.”
Wayne David MP for Caerphilly wanted more information about the deterioration of the river Wye in the last six years as mentioned earlier by campaigner Angela Jones.
Miss Jones said: “The Wye is the nation’s favourite river, and we’ve had a massive increase in poultry farming. That manure is spread on the land and runs straight into the River Wye.
“Intense poultry units have just taken over the land and that river is on a cliff edge. Then we have sewage on top of that.
She added; “We’ve been to so many meeting where we’ve had dates, and people saying: this will happen and that will happen. But nothing happens. We probably have a year left of the Wye before we lose the ecology of that river.
“The River Usk is very similar but it’s not about poultry, it’s about agriculture run offs and sewage. Welsh Water is in both those rivers.”
According to Angela Jones who is a keen kayaker, the dumping of sewage is as much a problem in our seas as it is in our rivers.
Due to the problems of pollution in the River Wye, she said she went kayaking off the coast of Pembrokeshire one weekend.
“I went in at Wiseman’s Bridge and there was a huge amount of sewage coming out there. I was trying to get away from pollution but this is going on in the whole of Wales.”
Geraint Davies MP for Swansea West said he wanted to further pursue the issue in the River Wye and said:
“My understanding is that the US company Cargill who is responsible for hundreds of these chicken farms, previously got sued in 2001 (in the US) for excessive pollution and they are making up the same excuses (here).
“Would you agree that the sudden increase of the devastation of the Wye in recent years is the matter of chicken manure on top of existing discharges of human sewage has got us into such a critical level that action needs to be taken now?”
Miss Jones relied: “That is exactly what’s happened (planning) permission has been given (by local authorities) for intensive poultry farming. This is not about farming – this is huge American companies coming over here, doing exactly what they did (in the US) when they decimating their own rivers and lakes.
“The regulators that are supposed to be out there to stop this are not regulating. When I meet up with them in a highly polluted section (of the Wye) they turn up without their kits. When I offer them my evidence and everything we’ve collected they don’t want to look into it.
“Natural Resources Wales is not doing the job and they are not fit for purpose. You can see by their reports how they are getting it so wrong. That really needs to be looked at.”
Mr Davies then asked Miss Jones whether she was of the opinion that someone should “intervene to control the discharge from these chicken farms?”
To which she replied, “absolutely”.
Mr Crabb brought the meeting to a close by informing everyone that next month NRW, Welsh Water and Ofwat would be called to give evidence.
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